Snow leopards at the Louisville Zoo are the newest animals to become infected with the coronavirus.
One female cat, NeeCee, tested positive and two males, Kimti and Meru, are believed positive based on tests at a regional veterinary diagnostic center that must be confirmed in a national laboratory.
The cats all show mild symptoms of coughing and wheezing, similar to the tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo who tested positive in April. The New York cats recovered without difficulty, and the Kentucky Zoo expects the snow leopards to do the same.
Domestic cats, dogs and minks are also infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 in humans. Domestic cats and mink can transmit it to other animals. Minks are the only animals known to become seriously ill, and they are the only animals known to transmit the virus back to humans.
Denmark ordered up to 17 million minks to be killed because of concerns about mutations in the virus that could affect the vaccine's potential effectiveness. These fears were unfounded, but numerous scientists supported this move as a parallel mink pandemic risks more mutation and greater transmission to humans and possibly other animals.
So far, no cases have been documented in which dogs or cats transmit the virus to humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers recommendations on what to do with pets when owners become infected, and the Department of Agriculture has guidelines for mink farmers.
Tests for the virus in animals are not the same as for humans and can only be done in specialized laboratories that do not test humans. The Louisville Zoo sent stool samples to the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which ran initial tests that showed all three snow leopards were positive.
The samples were then forwarded to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, which confirmed the positive result for the snow leopard. The confirmation for the two male cats was still pending.