COVID-19 and Planning for Your Pet

What pet owners need to know.

Posted Mar 11, 2020

Stocksnap/Pixabay
Source: Stocksnap/Pixabay

This post was last updated 24th March 2020.

Today, the WHO has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In this situation, what do we need to know about our pets? There are some steps all owners can take to plan for their pet’s care, and some things that people with COVID-19 need to know to avoid transmitting it to a pet.

I am not a medical doctor, epidemiologist, or veterinarian. I have stuck to reliable sources in writing this piece, but the situation is changing rapidly and is different depending on where you are. Always follow local advice and the advice of your own vet.

The news is that currently, “While we do not yet know for sure, there is limited evidence that companion animals can be infected with or spread SARS-Cov-2. We also do not know if they could get sick from this new coronavirus. Additionally, there is currently no evidence that companion animals could be a source of infection to people.” according to the WSAVA. (You can see their latest advice for pet owners here).

Emergency plans

Everyone should have an emergency plan for their pet anyway, even at the best of times (Todd, 2020). This includes putting together an emergency kit including your pet’s identification details (e.g. microchip), copies of their veterinary records, any medication they might need, and supplies such as pet food, cat litter, cleaning supplies, pee pads, and so on (e.g. the BC SPCA’s disaster plan checklist for pets).

You may wish to check or increase those supplies. Think about any medication your pet needs and make sure you have a good supply, as well as pet food and any other supplies you might need in case you have to self-isolate.

Veterinarian Adrian Walton of Dewdney Animal Hospital told CTV News Vancouver,

“If you are quarantined, it’s very likely that they’re going to be quarantining your pet as well, at least for 14 days. So one of the things that they are recommending is making sure that you have enough food and medications to self-quarantine you and your pet for that period of time; but also understand that if you get hospitalized, you’re going to have to have arrangements with somebody to take care of your pets if you do have to spend some time in the hospital. These are things that you should be planning ahead for.”

Check with a friend, family member, or neighbour who could care for your pet in case you have to be in the hospital, and have a backup just in case they get sick too.

In places that are currently on "lock down" or where people are advised to stay home as much as possible, veterinarians are only open for emergency care and may collect your pet from your car rather than allow you into the clinic - speak to your vet if you need veterinary care. You can also see advice from the AVMA on COVID-19 and veterinary care.

What if we have to self-isolate?

At the moment, some people who are at risk of infection are being asked to self-isolate for a period of 14 days (e.g. people returning to Canada from abroad). Self-isolation means that you should not go out (see more information on how to self-isolate). However, you can still get things delivered, so you could still get food (and pet food) delivered from your local supermarket. Have the delivery left on the doorstep and do not open the door until the delivery person has left, to avoid risks of transmission.

If you are self-isolating and there are other people in your home, advice regarding your pet from the Canadian government is "avoid contact with pets if you live with other people that may also be touching them."

What if I get COVID-19?

If you have COVID-19, you should avoid close contact with your pets, and have another member of your household look after them if possible. The Canadian government has this advice:

“Until we know more, if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have a pet or other animal:

  • avoid close contact with them
    • do not snuggle or kiss them, or let them lick you, sit on your lap, or sleep in your bed
  • avoid coughing and sneezing on your animals
  • have another member of your household care for your animals
    • if this is not possible, always wash your hands before touching or feeding them
  • limit your animal's contact with other people and animals
    • this may mean keeping them indoors”

The CDC advice is similar:

“You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the new coronavirus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.”

Enrichment will be very important for dogs who can’t be taken on walks; sniffing opportunities (including hiding treats), tricks training, and scent games will help. There are some more ideas for keeping your dog entertained indoors and from the RSPCA in the UK.

How can I help the most vulnerable?

The CDC has advised at-risk populations to stay home as much as possible. So far, what we know is that people most vulnerable to COVID-19 are those over 65, with an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes, and/or with a compromised immune system. People like this may need a little help. For example, they may need help with shopping (or with setting up internet shopping) or with walking their dog so that they can avoid crowds. Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Washington Post that checking on senior neighbours at this time is a good Samaritan Act.

In an area with an outbreak, you may need to leave supplies on their doorstep and check on them via telephone or internet chat, rather than visiting in person. In an interview a couple of days ago, Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes for Health said:

“Even if you’re not in the area with ongoing community spread, you’d do mitigation for everyone. Whether they’re elderly, immunocompromised, or young, common sense should prevail. The way we protect them in general is: Don’t take any unnecessary risks with them.”

A resilient community is one in which the most vulnerable are helped, too. There may be ways in which you could help in your community, such as donating to the local food bank or pet food bank to help people who are unable to build up stocks on their own.

Meanwhile, the most important thing you can do is follow local advice, which may be to stay home as much as possible or to shelter in place. BC's Health Minister, Adrian Dix, emphasized the urgency of this on 19th March:

"Right now and in the days and weeks and months ahead we need to do what we're asked to do. We need to do it 100 per cent ... we need to do it until we're told to stop."

Facebook image: eva_blanco/Shutterstcok

References

Todd, Zazie (2020) Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, with a foreword by Dr. Marty Becker. Greystone Books.

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