First US Dog to Test Positive for COVID-19 Has Died

He likely had cancer as well, but researchers know little about pets and the virus.

German Shepherd Sticking Out Tongue While Resting On Field During Autumn
A German shepherd, like the one pictured here, was the first to test positive in the U.S. for COVID-19. Rebecca Stynes / EyeEm / Getty Images

Buddy was a German shepherd from Staten Island. He liked cuddling, car rides, and running through sprinklers. Buddy was the first dog in the U.S. to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. He was diagnosed in April and died on July 11.

His family, the Mahoneys, told Buddy’s story in an exclusive interview with National Geographic.

Buddy was tested in April after he had trouble breathing and had thick mucus in his nose. His owner, Robert, had been dealing with the virus for three weeks, battling weakness, a scratchy throat, and a loss of taste. He immediately thought Buddy had COVID-19 too.

But it was difficult getting diagnosis or treatment for the 6-year-old dog. Their family vet was shut down because of the pandemic. Another vet wouldn’t let Mahoney come into the clinic because he was sick, so they prescribed antibiotics over the phone. But they were skeptical the dog had the virus and didn’t have test kits to find out.

Buddy continued to deteriorate. The family told National Geographic that his breathing worsened, he lost weight, and he became lethargic. They were able to take him to several different veterinarians where he had X-rays and an ultrasound. He was put on antibiotics, steroids, and two different heart medicines. He eventually was given a COVID-19 test, which came back positive. The family’s other dog — a 10-month-old German shepherd named Duke — was given a test too. It came back negative.

Additional COVID-19 testing for Buddy a few days later showed that the virus was no longer in his system, but he did have antibodies, meaning he had the virus at some point.

'He didn't want to go'

Buddy continued to get worse. His breathing became more labored, he had blood in his urine, and he had difficulty walking. On the morning of July 11, Buddy was throwing up clotted blood.

“It looked like it was his insides coming out,” Allison Mahoney told National Geographic. “He had it all over. It was coming from his nose and mouth. We knew there was nothing that could be done for him from there. What are you going to do for a dog with this? But he had the will to live. He didn’t want to go.” 

So the family and the veterinarian made the decision to put him to sleep.

New blood work taken that day showed that Buddy most likely had lymphoma. That cancer could explain many of his symptoms.

But the family tells National Geographic that the most confusing and frustrating part of the whole heartbreaking situation is that health experts weren’t interested in studying the possible role COVID-19 may have played in Buddy’s symptoms or death.

“If [health officials] had said, ‘Mahoney family, get in the car and come to [a veterinary lab],’ I would have done it,” said Allison, Nobody even mentioned it.”

There have been so few cases that have been confirmed in animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that two pet cats tested positive in April in separate areas of New York state. Four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo tested positive likely from a positive but asymptomatic keeper. Earlier, there were reports of two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium that were infected.

Although there are limited cases showing that animals may have picked up the virus from people, infectious disease experts say there's still no evidence the pets spread the virus to people.

The CDC says, "At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19."

But Buddy's experience may have helped researchers learn more about the pet-virus connection.

As Natasha Daly writes in National Geographic, “Their story also sheds light on the gaps in public knowledge regarding animals and the novel coronavirus, highlighting what may be a need for a more unified, consistent approach to monitoring and investigating positive cases, and bringing that information back to the research community.”

Buddy was cremated and the family is waiting to bring him home.