MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A tiger at a Minnesota wildcat sanctuary tested positive for COVID-19, marking the second instance of an animal in the state contracting the virus.

Caretakers at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone started paying attention when two tigers showed symptoms earlier this month, says founder Tammy Thies.

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“They had originally showed some intermittent wheezing,” Thies said.

She says they took action when 21-year-old Sabrina stopped eating. The tiger was being sedated for another issue, so they only tested her for the virus.

“We were worried about our geriatric and compromised cats, because of course we’re looking at what this does in humans, and does this translate to big cats,” Thies said.

They believe an asymptomatic caretaker transmitted the virus to a tiger, and then it spread among the cats. Thies says four staff members ended up positive. All staff and animals have recovered, and they’ve increased precautions.

(credit: Wildcat Sanctuary)

“Our staff wear N95 masks. If they’re anywhere near a cat they also wear gloves, they wear goggles, and they’re treating every section of the sanctuary as its own quarantine area,” Thies said.

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Veterinarian Courtney Wheeler with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health says people can also spread the virus to their pets.

“Pets can exhibit clinical signs that are very similar to people, and so they can actually get very sick,” Wheeler said.

If your pet starts acting differently, or has been exposed to COVID-19, it’s a good idea to talk with your vet.

“So coughing, wheezing, not wanting to eat, fever, etc.,” Wheeler said.

A good rule of thumb: If you get sick, isolate from both people and pets. And Wheeler says keep a social distance from animals that aren’t yours.

“Just like you wouldn’t touch someone else’s child or shake someone else’s hand, just don’t pet that animal, no matter how cute it is,” Wheeler said.

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A house cat in Carver County is the only other animal in the state to test positive for COVID-19. That cat has recovered and is doing well.

Jennifer Mayerle