FAQs for Pet Owners during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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UC Davis veterinarians have compiled this list of frequently asked questions with regards to pets during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

What if my pet needs to go to the veterinarian during this outbreak?
Please only bring your pet to the veterinarian for urgent needs at this time. Please stay home if there is any risk you or someone in your immediate family/social circle may be sick – convey all this to your veterinarian before your pet arrives. Make arrangements for someone else to bring your animal to the veterinarian and have that caretaker approved to make medical decisions and payment. Please be responsible about veterinary visits, so veterinarians can continue to offer their communities needed care.

How can I prepare my pet for the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Should quarantine be required, prepare your pet just as you would prepare your family. This includes stocking up on a 2-4 week supply of food, medications (don’t forget subscription medications), litter and other supplies. Learn more about pet safety in emergencies.
  • Make sure your pet’s medical records, vaccines, and preventative medications (tick, flea, internal parasites) are up to date in the event you cannot care for them and need to board your pet.
  • Practice good hygiene during interactions with your pet (wash hands before and after interacting with your pet; ensure your pet is kept well-groomed and is bathed on a weekly basis; regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys).
  • If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you normally would, including walking, feeding, and playing.
  • Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the CDC.

Is it true that pet ownership has health benefits? And can they help during this stressful time?

Yes, there are many known examples of human health being positively affected by owning a pet, such interacting and/or exercising with an animal can help decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Pets can be a wonderful support for us, especially during trying times such as extended periods of “sheltering in place.” Pets can also help manage loneliness and depression with their companionship, especially for seniors or other individuals who have less opportunity to socialize with others.

Can our stress dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic harm our pets?

Our stress can affect our pets and cause them to feel anxiety and in some cases exhibit anxious behaviors (barking, aggressive behavior, urinating or defecating in the house, destructive behavior, restlessness, hiding, and repetitive or compulsive behaviors). Our pets respond best to calm, patient, and confident attitudes in their human companions. We can best help our pets by maintaining a healthy routine and taking good care of our own mental and physical health so that we can remain calm and patient with them.

How can we best use our “shelter in place” time with our pets?

This quarantine is an ideal time for you to work on training new behaviors, like obedience routines. Both dogs and cats enjoy interacting with us in these structured and fun ways, and this type of interaction can increase their confidence and socialization. It’s also a great time to take a slow, gradual approach to helping them overcome any phobias they may have; we have more time while sheltering in place to take “baby steps” to desensitize and counter condition pets to things they find overwhelming, such as tooth brushing, ear cleaning, nail trims, or more challenging things like separation anxiety or car ride phobias. To learn more, see this resource.

How can we maintain our pets’ health during the COVID-19 pandemic?

One of the best things we can do at this time is to keep ourselves mentally healthy so we provide our pets with a safe, secure environment – follow CDC and local health department guidelines to staying healthy and minimize spread of the disease. Go on walks while maintaining proper physical distancing, throw the ball in the yard, and play with cat toys.

Can I get my pet tested for COVID-19?

Most animal diagnostic laboratories are not currently set up to test for this specific coronavirus. The problem occurs when veterinarians have to perform the testing, because they would need to wear a special high-density face mask and a face shield. Face masks have to be fitted by a trained individual in advance, and many veterinarians are not fit-tested on a regular basis, nor do they have high-density surgical masks on their inventory.

My pet seems to be displaying signs of COVID-19. What should I do?

Should your dog or cat develop respiratory illness, remember that this (“kennel cough” and “cat flu”) is extremely common in dogs and cats, especially those that board, go to “doggy daycare,” or are acquired from shelter environments. There are more than 10 different viruses and bacteria that can cause these signs in dogs, including canine respiratory coronavirus, which only infects dogs. Any pet that develops respiratory illness is MUCH more likely to be infected with a dog or cat respiratory virus or bacteria (including coronaviruses that only infect dogs, such as canine respiratory coronavirus) than the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. These dog and cat viruses do not cause infections in people. Please have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian if signs of runny nose/eyes, cough, or sneezing develop, and do not allow your pet to contact other animals in the meantime.

What evidence is there that SARS-CoV-2 can infect dogs, cats and other animals?

By February 2020, there was evidence that animals were being infected with SARS-CoV-2. While 2 dogs (Hong Kong), 1 cat (Belgium), 1 cat in Hong Kong, and 1 tiger (New York City) have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.
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Can infected pets transmit the disease to people? Should I be taking precautions when handling dogs and cats?

Currently, there is no evidence that dogs and cats, and even ferrets, can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans outside the laboratory, either as fomites or as virus shedders. To date, all transmission has been human-to-human, after the initial jump from bats (most likely) to humans. After the report of the infected cat in Belgium, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) updated their site to state that although some examples of animal infections have been reported to the OIE, currently there is “no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person contact.”

If dogs and cats can shed the virus in a natural environment, it is possible that the quantity of virus shed is too low for transmission to occur, especially if there are no signs of respiratory disease to create air-borne droplets for transmission.

Since other infectious diseases can spread between animals and humans, it is prudent to always exercise good hygiene when people—especially children and the immunocompromised—are around animals. This includes washing hands properly after touching, feeding or cleaning up after a pet; avoiding rough play (especially between children and animals); and not allowing pets to sleep in the bed with immunocompromised people, or lick faces, wounds, or healthcare devices.

If pet owners are known to have COVID-19 (confirmed through testing; or highly suspected to have it and are unable to get tested), additional special precautions are warranted. In that case, pet owners should limit contact (ideally have someone else in the household take care of the pet) and wear a face mask. The pet should be quarantined with them, and any signs of illness in the pet should be reported to their veterinarian.

Critically, it is important that pet owners not over-react and disconnect from their pet. The importance of the human-animal bond and its positive healthcare effects cannot be overestimated. There is evidence that pet ownership has many health benefits, including reduction in mental illness and cardiovascular disease, decreased blood pressure and improved self-esteem in children. Owners should not panic about the possibility of pet infection and transmission, and instead enjoy all the positive healthcare benefits of the bond they have with their pets.

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