As the pandemic devastating the United States has infected millions of Americans, National Geographic has reported that the first dog in the country to be diagnosed with the coronavirus died earlier this month after a months-long battle with the virus, and the case highlights how little experts know about the disease’s effects on animals.
Buddy, a seven-year-old German Shepherd, belonged to a Staten Island family and began having a hard time breathing and was showing thick mucus in April, just before he was to turn seven in human years, his owners, the Mahoney family, told the magazine.
It was strange because the dog had never been ill before, but only Robert Mahoney suspected it could be linked to coronavirus, which had hit New York the previous month and which Mahoney had tested positive for several weeks earlier.
Because of pandemic-related restrictions, it took a month for the Mahoneys to find a veterinarian who would have Buddy tested for the virus, they said, and sure enough, his test came back positive.
In that time, Buddy had gotten progressively more sick, and was showing symptoms like lethargy and declining body weight, and other vets who were skeptical he had the virus had him on antibiotics, heart medicine and steroids at different points after he was found to have an enlarged spleen, liver and a heart murmur, according to National Geographic.
The Mahoney’s wouldn’t learn until the day he died that Buddy probably had lymphoma, too—the magazine reported it may never be known if the cancer made Buddy more vulnerable to the virus, or which condition was responsible for his different symptoms.
The public was first informed that an American dog had been diagnosed with coronavirus in June, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture statement read that the dog “expected to make a full recovery.”
But Buddy’s condition took a turn for the worse, and his family made the decision to have him put down July 11, according to National Geographic.
“You tell people that your dog was positive, and they look at you [as if you have] ten heads,” Allison Mahoney told National Geographic. “[Buddy] was the love of our lives … He brought joy to everybody. I can’t wrap my head around it.”
Buddy’s story has raised questions about how the coronavirus affects animals who become infected. When the New York City Department of Health contacted the Mahoneys in early June to confirm Buddy did have the virus when he was first tested on May 15, they said samples taken five days later appeared to show the virus wasn’t there. The Mahoney’s other dog, Duke, tested negative May 20 as well, although he appear to have antibodies, National Geographic reported. But Buddy’s condition continued to worsen, which may indicate the time he was infected had longer-term implications for his health. Not even 25 American animals have been recorded as being diagnosed with the virus, National Geographic reported. While the Centers for Disease Control offers some guidance, there is little research available about coronavirus and pets. “We had zero knowledge or experience with the scientific basis of COVID in dogs,” said Robert Cohen, the veterinarian who treated Buddy, to National Geographic about conversations he had with the USDA and New York’s health department.
The magazine was the first to break the news on Buddy’s full identity, as well as the specifics of his case.
Earlier this month, a Texas dog who tested positive for the virus was said to be the fifth dog in America to contract coronavirus. Other animals reportedly infected include pet cats, as well as a lion and a tiger.