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23 dogs in Washington test positive for COVID-19 antibodies

The samples tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Washington universities are studying how the virus is transmitted from humans to pets.

SEATTLE — A group of dogs are the first known animals in Washington state to show evidence of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).

The dogs were sampled as part of the COVID-19 and Pets Study that the University of Washington (UW) started in early 2020 to examine pets from households where humans have tested positive for COVID-19. 

In all, 23 samples from dogs tested positive for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, according to the WSDA in a release Wednesday.

While these are the first known cases of pets testing positive in Washington, they are not the first in the United States. There have been 82 cats and 64 dogs that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S., according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The virus is not just affecting companion animals, either, but also zoo animals across the country. Earlier this week, some otters at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The aquarium said the otters may have gotten the infection from an asymptomatic staff member.

Fourteen tigers have also tested positive in the U.S., according to the USDA data.

RELATED: Otters at Georgia Aquarium test positive for virus that causes COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the USDA both state there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans. 

"These detections are not a surprise given the other cases reported across the country," Washington State Veterinarian Dr. Brian Joseph said in a statement. "While there is no significant public health risk, we would advise pet owners who are COVID-positive to take measures to protect their pets from the virus."

The CDC recommends people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock and wildlife. If a person with COVID-19 must care for pets or other animals, they should wear a mask and wash their hands before and after interacting with them. 

If an animal does become sick, the owners should contact a veterinarian. 

The COVID-19 and Pets Study at the UW is being done in partnership with the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) at Washington State University.

Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, director of the UW Center for One Health Research and principal investigator for the COVID-19 and Pets Study, said they are continuing the study as human vaccine rollout is taking place and will see whether any change in household transmission to pets occurs. 

RELATED: VERIFY: COVID-19 vaccines for zoo animals have no impact on human shot distribution