Pug in North Carolina Reportedly Testing Positive for COVID-19; What Does that Mean?


It’s been widely reported that a Pug in North Carolina, named Winston, was found to be positive of the SARS corona virus 2 (SARS CoV-2) which causes COVID-19, and was coughing.

Please understand that a coughing and/or lethargic dog is VERY UNLIKELY to be diagnosed with COVID-19, another cause is FAR more likely.

Here’s what is known about Winston. Three human members of the McClean family, Sam and Heather McClean and their son Ben were diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. The couple’s daughter Sydney never showed any symptoms and has not tested positive. But Winston began to cough and was tested positive by Duke University. The McClean family has another dog, a cat, and a lizard. The dog and cat tested negative, it’s unknown regarding the lizard.

The family was participating in a Duke University study about Covid-19 aimed at trying to find potential treatments and vaccines. As part of the study, members of the family under go weekly nasal swabs and give blood samples. According to CNN, Chris Woods, the principal investigator of the study, said researchers have also been collecting samples from family pets to determine how the novel coronavirus spreads in households.

While researchers say they are sure of Winston’s positive result, it’s important to note that to date the test result regarding the Pug has not been been confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture or the Centers for Disease Control.

There is no reason to doubt Duke’s researchers, per se. Still despite frenzied media and blog reports – either way, here are some facts: The viral load reportedly carried by Winston was very low. There is no indication anywhere on the globe that dogs or cats can infect humans. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is a human illness. If the Pug was indeed infected, humans infected the Pug (rather than the other way around).

If indeed Winston did have COVID-19, he apparently easily recovered.

Winston would be the first dog in the U.S. showing positive for COVID-19  Only two other dogs (both in Hong Kong) have been identified with COVID-19. Experts suggest that cats are more a concern for contracting COVID-19 (as it is believed the receptor cells of SARS CoV-2 may match well with cats). It’s good news that the cat in this South Carolina home reportedly tested negative. And even when it comes to domestic cats, you can count confirmed positives on one hand, two cats (at two different homes) in New York state, a cat in Hong Kong and perhaps a cat in Belgium and a cat in France. On April 29, the number of confirmed  human cases passed 3.1 million (all experts agree that number is likely far higher). Still, we can count positives in companion animals in single digits.

According to advice offered by the American Veterinary Medical Association, out of an abundance of caution – if there is a human positive for COVID-19 at your home, if possible, someone else should primarily interact and care for companion animals. Some dogs may even enjoy a min-vacation at a friend or relative’s home.

To keep up to date regarding verified news about COVID-19 and pets, visit www.avma.org.