Considerations for the Management of Non-Domestic Species During COVID-19 (Archived)


This post is no longer being updated. For the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 and exotic animals, please see ZAHP’s COVID-19 Resources page.

Last Updated December 21, 2021

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the understanding of how the virus affects various animal species is still largely unknown. As of December 3rd, 2021, cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or evidence of exposure via serosurveillance, have been confirmed in tigers, lions, puma, snow leopards, Canada lynx, jaguars, Asian small-clawed otters, gorillas, mink, white-tailed deer, ferrets, binturongs, fishing cats, coatimundi, spotted hyenas, hippopotamus, domestic cats, and dogs after contact with infected humans or animals.

A list of confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in animals within the US is available on the USDA website; additional information on cases worldwide is available from the OIE.

In November 2021, In November 2021, the One Health Federal Interagency COVID-19 Coordination Group (OH-FICC) Wildlife and Zoos Subgroup, in collaboration with the Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership (ZAHP), released the COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Tool for Captive Wildlife Facilities. You can learn more about this tool and access it here.


The following represents general considerations for the management of non-domestic species in human care. These considerations have been collated from various associations, subject matter experts, and taxon advisory groups. Please note that these are only considerations. The actions taken by your facility or institution should be based on a thorough risk assessment of your collections, protocols, location and other factors that increase or decrease the risk of disease. 

For more information on risk assessment, see Secure Zoo Strategy.

Generally Accepted Facts About COVID-19, the Disease Caused by the SARS-CoV-2 Virus (Last Updated 11/3/21)
  • This is a human health pandemic that likely originated from animal reservoirs in Wuhan, China in 2019.
  • Humans can be infected with the virus, shed the virus, and may never show clinical signs of disease, or may have delayed on-set of a myriad of symptoms. Because of the highly variable presentation of disease, this makes it difficult to determine if the individuals most closely working with non-domestic species may or not be a risk to collections at a given time. Fully vaccinated humans can still become infected and spread this virus. This may be a critical risk factor for the infection of zoological species.
  • Most common transmission of the virus from human to human remains the spread via respiratory secretions
  • The ability of the COVID-19 virus to attach to mammalian cells and potentially cause infection seems to be dictated by the make-up of cellular receptors known as ACE2. A recent manuscript [1] in the Journal of Virology states “[the virus] likely recognizes ACE2 from pigs, ferrets, cats, orangutans, monkeys, and humans with similar efficiencies, because these ACE2 molecules are identical or similar in the critical virus binding residues.” The presence of ACE2 receptors is likely necessary to allow infection, but current studies have so far not explained the dose of viral units necessary to cause disease in many species.
  • Due to the genetic similarity between humans and non-human primates (NHP) other great apes in addition to orangutans, are likely susceptible to this virus. This hypothesis appears to be valid, given the confirmed infection in gorillas in early January 2021.
  • A manuscript [1] by Shi et al. found that in experimental conditions, the SARS-CoV-2 virus replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks, but ferrets and cats are permissive of infection (under experimental conditions).
  • It is the opinion of animal experts that related species may share similar receptor biology, and are presuming that all non-domestic animals of certain taxa may be susceptible. Additional research is needed.
  • Bat species are known to be the host of many coronaviruses, and they have been implicated in one of many steps that likely resulted in the current virus circulating in the human population. This novel coronavirus may be able to circulate in certain bat species, and therefore may pose a risk to bats in human care.
  • Mink have been implicated in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 back to farm workers.  See the following link for more information about animals and COVID-19:

[1] Shi, J., Wen, Z., Zhong, G., 2020. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs and other domesticated animals to SARS-coronavirus 2. Science 08 April 2020.

Taxon-Specific Considerations (Last Updated 11/3/21)

Human health is the priority; however, steps that will keep humans safer during this time also protect animals in human care. Again, we reiterate: considerations and protocol changes should be made after a risk assessment of your facility, protocols, practices and animal species. Not all considerations will be necessary or appropriate based upon risk assessment.

Links to taxonomic specific statements:

Vaccination Considerations for the Experimental Use of the Zoetis Vaccine in Zoological Collections (Last Updated 11/3/21)

  • Zoetis is currently offering a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for experimental use in zoological species. As of November 2021, a portion of available doses is being generously provided by Zoetis the company for use in zoological species free of charge. The vaccine is expected to receive full licensure in 2022, after which the vaccine will be available for purchase.  
  • Zoetis is not limiting the vaccine to certain species; however, they are recommending a facility-specific Risk Assessment to determine which animal species are at highest risk. The Felid TAG is recommending that facilities holding cats develop a plan once the vaccine becomes available after request. No major side effects have been reported in vaccinated felines, and the efficacy is currently being analyzed. 
  • For more information on Zoetis vaccine and availability for zoological species, please contact John Hardham of Zoetis:
  • There are paperwork and reporting requirements associated with this vaccine distribution. Interested institutions are recommended to reach out to Zoetis as quickly as possible if vaccination is elected.

Assessing Fitness of Staff Caring for Animals (Last Updated 11/3/21)

  • Facilities should know where to find the most recent recommendations from the CDC and local public health to keep essential workers safe. NOTE: The case definition for humans is changing rapidly. It is the facility’s responsibility to remain current on guidelines that determine a confirmed, suspect, asymptomatic or recovered individual, and how that relates to their fitness to work around animals, and with what restrictions [2].
  • Institute or reinforce all personal hygiene actions among staff to limit the spread of respiratory disease (handwashing, avoid touching one’s face, PPE use to be discussed below) not just when “on the job” but also in their off hours.
  • Institute a mechanism for caretakers to promptly report any symptoms they may experience. Other ‘screening’ tools should be considered as they are developed. Consider a policy that allows staff to report clinical signs of their own disease without negative repercussions for reporting.
  • Consider implementing self-surveillance by taking body temperatures twice daily. (This is being recommended by the National State Public Health Veterinarians for all essential workers)
  • Establish facility-specific guidelines for the management of asymptomatic workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19. It is recommended to follow CDC guidance as it may change.
  • Ensure that staff are properly trained for working with the species under their care, and are trained to any new protocols implemented at this time.
  • Reinforce the importance of reporting any unusual symptoms in both themselves, and animals they care for.
  • Facilities should develop their individual protocols regarding vaccination of staff and plan to revisit protocols as new information becomes available. Broad vaccination of staff should be considered to protect both people and animals.
  • Limit the number of individuals in contact with known susceptible species. Maintain a log of individuals working with susceptible species for contact tracing if necessary.


Social Distancing (Last Updated May 2021)

  • Determine who needs to be with the animals, and for what reasons. It is important for facilities to continue to review their current protocols as additional cases occur.
  • Consider developing staggered work schedules to reduce the number of employees on site at any one time
  • Reassess the need to be closer than 6 feet to any animal during any training, shifting, hand-feeding. This aligns with CDC guidance for human distancing. Consider temporarily discontinuing non-essential interactions such as hand feeding, training
  • Reinforce the practice of social distancing with animal care staff outside of work as well.
  • Periodically re-evaluate the proximity of staff and guests to animals, especially susceptible species. Add barriers or other protocols as appropriate.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (Last Updated 11/3/21)

  • Evaluate current PPE protocols and determine if they are sufficient to protect workers from each other, and the animals from the staff. As the Delta variant appears to be more transmissible in humans and animals, a re-evaluation of PPE protocols is recommended. Consider PPE protocols for staff that interact with multiple areas of the institution (vet staff, animal diet preparation and delivery areas, horticulture, facilities maintenance, etc.)
  • Recognize that as different species of animals may be identified as susceptible, protocols will need to be re-evaluated and updated as needed.
  • Consider the use of eye protection (to minimize splash between workers).
  • Current CDC recommendations [3] support the use of cloth face coverings to minimize the risk of infective droplets from humans being released into the air to infect others (or animals). However, cloth masks must fit very well to cover the nose and mouth at all times, especially when working with felids. Upgrading cloth masks to higher efficiency surgical masks or N95 should be considered. Proper washing and care of cloth face coverings is important to prevent them from becoming fomites.
  • The use of N95 masks should be carefully considered and used accordingly. This may be based on potential species susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 or other human pathogens, as well as the type of procedure being conducted. The proper use of N95 masks is determined by a ‘fit test’ and questionnaire that must be filled out by the employee to determine their suitability to work in an N95 mask.
  • Consider the feasibility of changing clothes or using designated work clothing, and options for doing laundry on site. (This minimizes clothing as a fomite for disease transmission)
  • The use of gloves (if available) should be evaluated. Ensure that proper ‘donning and doffing’ (removal) of gloves and any other PPE ensures that the PPE is removed carefully to prevent worker contamination.
  • Evaluate the need for additional use of coveralls, foot coverings, or footbaths.


Cleaning and Disinfecting (Last Updated 11/3/21)

  • All staff should adhere to CDC Guidelines on Handwashing: Regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, blowing nose, coughing, sneezing, and before eating. Staff should also wash hands before entering an animal area, and before and after handling animal food and food dishes or working in an animal’s enclosure. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands [4].
  • Evaluate “common touch points” both inside and outside animal housing such as commissary equipment, etc.
  • Evaluate normal protocols for cleaning and disinfection, and consider what changes are necessary. SARS-CoV-2 virus is inactivated by many disinfectants commonly used in facilities housing animals [5].
  • Regularly disinfect all surfaces that commonly come into human and animal contact. Frequent disinfection of food bowls, enrichment items is recommended. Disposable gloves when handling any materials that animals – especially cats – contact is recommended.
  • Re-examine building ventilation equipment to ensure that filters are clean and the system is functioning appropriately.



COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Tool for Captive Wildlife Facilities (Last Updated 11/30/21)

The COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Tool for Captive Wildlife Facilities: Zoos, Sanctuaries, Aquaria, and Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centers was developed by the One Health Federal Interagency COVID-19 Coordination Group (OH-FICC) Wildlife and Zoos Subgroup in collaboration with the Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership.

This checklist provides a guide for baseline biosecurity measures and controls that should be in place to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between animals housed in captive wildlife facilities and people (including employees such as caretakers, maintenance staff, and other employees, volunteers, and the public) who may have direct or indirect contact with animals or their environment.

This assessment tool is meant to be used by the administrator(s) in charge of infection prevention and control at the facility, occupational health, respiratory protection, human resources, veterinary staff, or facilities and maintenance. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of considerations for preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, but a quick check of the minimum components of a biosecurity plan to ensure a baseline level of protection is in place. A layered approach using multiple strategies, including social distancing, personal protective equipment, hand hygiene, vaccination, and other items described in this list is recommended to reduce the spread of disease between people (whether working or visiting) and animals housed at these facilities.

You can view and download the tool below.

COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Tool for Captive Wildlife Facilities

What to Do if You are Suspicious of a Case of Disease in a Non-Domestic Animal (Last Updated May 2021)

If there is suspicion of a possible SARS-C0V-2 infection in an animal:

  • Per regulatory authorities [6], the decision to test an animal (including zoo animals) should be agreed upon using a One Health approach between appropriate local, state and/or federal public health and animal health officials.  Veterinarians should  first  contact their State Animal Health Officials to obtain permission to send samples and these officials may suggest a specific state lab. In some states, specially trained veterinarians may be required to obtain samples.
  • Your state animal health official will designate the laboratory for sample submission. The laboratory should be contacted prior to collection or shipment of any samples to determine any specific protocols. Oral/nasal swabs, tracheal wash or other respiratory samples, and fecal samples may be requested.
  • Samples from zoo species can be screened at a number of veterinary diagnostic laboratories. Confirmation must occur at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, IA
  • COVID-19 is an OIE reportable disease and there are penalties for those who do not report. As such, any positive sample will be automatically sent to NVSL (National Veterinary Services Laboratory) for confirmation. If confirmed, NVSL is required to report results to state and federal officials. Therefore, the decision to test needs to be made with caution and the understanding that results will be communicated to authorities. Prior to approval to submit samples by your State Animal Health Official, make sure that local and State Public Health officials and jurisdictional state wildlife agencies are aware that there is a suspicious case in an animal. This allows everyone to be prepared if a case of disease is confirmed in a non-domestic species.
  • Consider advising the appropriate SSP/TAG veterinary advisor of any testing so that they can track/help in dissemination of information when needed.

NOTE: Laboratories running any animal tests at this time are animal specific labs, and are not diverting testing capacity from human health laboratories.


Emerging Research on SARS-CoV-2 (Last Updated May 2021)

New research on SARS-CoV-2 is being released rapidly. There are hundreds of research papers being generated during this crisis. Many have not yet undergone strict peer review to determine validity of results, and therefore must be interpreted with caution. 

For a searchable database of the most recent scientific publications visit Lit COVID, which is updated daily. Those searching for COVID-19 literature should recognize that knowledge about this virus is changing rapidly, and be aware that some studies are being released to the public before the peer review process is complete.

Additional Resources (Last Updated May 2021)

These considerations are a result of a collaborative effort, engaging the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV), the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians and their respective Committees and Advisory Groups, as well as governmental partners. These individuals and organizations represent the best of the ZAHP partnership!

This is a PDF version of a page on the ZAHP website. For the most current version of this information visit: