HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s extremely rare, but some animals have caught COVID-19.
An Oahu woman who had COVID-19 in spring of 2020, recently noticed her dog had difficulty breathing.
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When Hawaii shut down in 2020, Angela Keen dedicated her time to tracking down people who broke the states mandatory quarantine to try and help keep the people of Hawaii safe.
Sure enough, the virus found its way into her home and infected her husband too. Their dog Scooter was by their side.
Keen said Scooter slept in the same bed as them as she battled COVID-19 for eight weeks.
But in March of 2021, their healthy 11-year-old terrier Maltese mix got sick.
“I started to notice he was having this labored breathing on his exhale and we had a vet appointment and we took him twice to his vet and they couldn’t find anything,” Keen said.
Four weeks later it got worse and she took him to the Veterinary Emergency Referral Center.
“He went through tons of x-rays, exams and all kinds of things and they figured out he had blisters on his lungs called Bullous and he had a collapsed lung and that lung was there for about three to four weeks,” she said.
Experts say Bullous is extremely rare in dogs.
But Keen and her husband, who were laid off due to the pandemic, decided to go through with the nearly $20,000 surgery to remove the damaged lung.
“The blisters broke open, the lung was leaking and there was nothing else that could be done except to remove that lung,” Keen said. “My husband and I both had gone through lung issues this past year with COVID and there’s no way we could put him down.”
She said the vet had told her the bullous had been in his lungs for a while.
“So, is it possible I passed on COVID-19 to him?” she asked.
One local vet said it can’t be ruled out.
According to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Agency, there have been 89 cases nationwide of SARS-COVID-2 found in cats, 78 in dogs and 17 in tigers. No cases were confirmed in Hawaii.
“We’re learning more every day,” explained Dr. Whitney Pressler, Medical Director at Alii Animal Hospital. “There was a big scare in the beginning because we think that animals can get COVID-19, particularly cats seem to get it more easily.”
She said studies in COVID-positive households found very few dogs got sick or caught the virus.
Without meeting Scooter, she suspects he had some lingering chronic bronchitis which is common in older small breeds.
“So if she had a chronic bronchitis in her Maltese mix, then after mom was sick, there’s a chance that within a week to 14 days, maybe even three weeks after the onset of her illness, if the disease was exacerbated, that’s when we would have seen it,” Dr. Pressler explained.
“I think it’s really unlikely a year later that we would have been seeing the manifestation of that disease from Coronavirus and dogs, but again, we can’t rule it out,” Dr. Pressler continued. “We say there’s probably no chance but it could happen. Because again, we didn’t study that dog at the time that mom was sick. And I suspect that on the x-rays, in addition to the bola, there was evidence of inflammation surrounding the bronchitis over a long period of time. So some scar tissue and that’s very common in small breed dogs.”
She said there are a few cases of sick dogs but they’ve been poorly documented.
“There were not enough veterinarians who went in and got samples typically be due to their risk for themselves of getting Coronavirus,” Dr. Pressler explained. “So when the patients are actively shedding the human patients going in and testing those dogs and cats that are living in that household isolated, are, you know, a tricky thing to do for the safety of the people involved.”
“Now that everybody’s vaccinated, I think we’re going to have more and more literature about that. And I know there are lots of studies in the US that are ongoing studies out of Spain and France as well as in Italy when they were having really large outbreaks,” Dr. Pressler said.
Dr. Pressler recommends keeping a distance from pets when feeling ill.