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Buddy the German Shepherd and COVID-19

On July 29, 2020, National Geographic published an article titled, “Exclusive: Buddy, first dog to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S., has died.”

Please pause and reread the title slowly, and bear in mind the commas.

The title does not implicate or point to COVID-19 disease as the cause of death, but certainly has raised some panic. Indeed, the article is well-written for effect and engagement, but ultimately leaves us with uncertainty.

In this post, we are going to strip down much of the narrative.

First and foremost, Buddy’s family provided medical records to National Geographic. The magazine sought out two veterinarians to review the records. The veterinarians concluded that he more than likely passed away from lymphoma, a common type of cancer in dogs.

Buddy’s Diagnoses

May 15, 2020: Buddy tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus causing COVID-19 infection – at a veterinary hospital. Results were confirmed by the New York City Department of Health.

May 20, 2020: Buddy tested a second time by New York City Department of Health and results were negative for the virus, indicating that the virus had cleared his body.

July 11, 2020: Bloodwork strongly indicated lymphoma. Buddy was put to rest.

Buddy’s Progressing Symptoms from April – July

  • Struggled to breathe
  • Lost appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargic
  • Anemic
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Enlarged liver
  • Heart murmur
  • Urinated uncontrollably
  • Blood in urine
  • Labored breathing
  • Walking difficulties
  • Vomited blood

Symptoms of Lymphoma

Lymphoma makes up 15-20% of new cancer diagnoses in dogs and usually affects middle-aged dogs.

Lymphomas may affect any organ in the body, but commonly originate in lymph nodes, before spreading to other organs such as the spleen, liver and bone marrow.

We do not know what type of canine lymphoma Buddy had.

The most common lymphoma in dogs is multicentric, which accounts for 80-85% of diagnosed lymphoma cases. The common symptoms of multicentric lymphoma are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Occasional increased thirst
  • Occasional increased urination
  • Swelling of the face or legs (edema)

Gastrointestinal lymphoma usually has the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anorexia

Dogs with mediastinal lymphoma usually experience these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the face or front legs
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination

More than likely, it was not cutaneous lymphoma, which appears as dry, flaky, red and itchy patches of skin.

Discussion

Indeed, we do not know how much Buddy’s lymphoma may have enabled SARS-CoV-2 infection, what symptoms were attributable to the virus or the lymphoma, how much SARS-CoV-2 possibly could have hastened the effect of the lymphoma.

However, we do know that it is relatively difficult for dogs to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and then develop symptoms due to the structure of their ACE2 receptors. ACE2 receptors have different configurations in different species. ACE2 receptors in cats and ferrets are very similar to those in humans, but ACE2 receptors in dogs are less structurally similar.

Additionally, as testing confirmed that Buddy had cleared the virus, he more than likely died from his lymphoma.

Sadly, Buddy was a victim of circumstance due to the confluence of events of cancer, partial immune system shutdown, the coronavirus and anxiety about it, and the unknown. For instance, it was difficult for his family to schedule veterinary appointments because many had curtailed operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. So, diagnosing his condition early was complicated by the partial shutdown.

All of us will be left with some doubt. The attending veterinarian, Robert Cohen, asked the New York City Department of Health if it wanted Buddy’s body for follow-up research. The city consulted with the United States Department of Agriculture and other federal offices. They decided to perform a necropsy. However, by the time this decision was made, Buddy had been cremated.

We are certain that the lymphoma played the major role in his death, and not SARS-CoV-2 positivity.

It is truly sad that Buddy passed away, and we send our condolences to the Mahoneys.

Remember

  • There is little to no evidence that domestic animals are easily infected with SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions and no evidence to date that they transmit the virus to people.
  • There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 virus can spread to people from the skin or fur of pets.
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