New findings show that a North Carolina family’s dog thought to be the nation’s first such pet to test positive for COVID-19 was likely never infected.
Veterinary laboratories for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said a series of tests on Winston, a pug belonging to the McLean family of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were completed last week. Though Winston reportedly tested positive in April for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronarvirus, the new tests did not detect antibodies or other signs of an infection.
The tests “were unable to verify infection in the dog,” Lyndsay Cole, a spokesperson for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in a statement. “No virus was isolated and there was no evidence of an immune response using the available test.”
One of Winston’s owners, Heather McLean, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March. Both her husband Samuel and son Ben also tested positive.
On April 1, she included Winston in a molecular and epidemiological research study at Duke University after the dog appeared to be experiencing mild symptoms.
“Pugs are a little unusual in that they cough and sneeze in a very strange way,” she said at the time. “So it almost seems like he was gagging, and there was one day when he didn’t want to eat his breakfast.”
Later that month, a Duke researcher who was part of the study announced that Winston tested positive for the coronavirus. The family’s other pets ― including a cat, a lizard and another dog ―all tested negative.
Duke University’s Elizabeth Petzold, who was involved in that original study, told North Carolina station WRAL-TV last week it’s likely the dog had encountered the virus “via environmental contamination from the surfaces in the home.”
“Going forward, we will begin collecting a small blood sample on all animals in the study to see if we can detect any animals with antibodies,” she said. “We hope to learn more as the study progresses.”
While the latest news from the USDA may be good for Winston, other animals have not been so fortunate. In March, two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus, as did a pet cat in Belgium.
Weeks later, it was confirmed that a total of eight big cats at New York’s Bronx Zoo ― five tigers and three African lions ― had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend pet owners treat infected animals “as you would other human family members,” officials have also stressed there is “no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”