At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited data available, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. It appears that in some rare situations, people can spread the virus to animals. Public health is not recommending you test pets for COVID-19 at this time; instead rule out other common causes of patient symptoms.
This interim guidance is for veterinarians and their staff who may be treating or advising on companion animal medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things You Can Do to Prepare
- Educate your clients on the differences between the enteric coronaviruses that circulate in domestic animals, and for which we can vaccinate, and this novel coronavirus which, though it shares the same common name, is in fact something quite different.
- Veterinarians should use their best clinical judgement when evaluating companion animals and considering appropriate PPE to use and precautions to take.
- Veterinary clinics should prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures until regular business operations resume in your community. Curbside service and telemedicine can be effective options to support patient care while social distancing.
- Develop a plan for what to do if a pet owner with respiratory symptoms comes into your clinic, or if a pet with a history of exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 needs to be seen.
- If a client has a pet with an urgent need for veterinary attention and the client has a case of COVID-19, asymptomatic but under in-house quarantine or sick and isolated at home, it is recommended that a family member or friend pick up the pet in a pet carrier if the owner cannot leave the home.
- If someone who is known to be infected with COVID-19 should contact you, the recommendation is to have a different member of the household care for the animal, if possible. The ill owner/household member should avoid contact with the pet as with other household members, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food. If the ill individual must care for the pet, they should wash their hands before and after interacting with the pet and wear a facemask if one is available.
- Consider making arrangements to have clients call you from their car upon arrival, and have someone from your practice pick up the animal outside so the client does not have to come inside the practice. Discuss care measures via cell phone.
- Recommend implementing restriction of employee visitors (family, friends and pets) to business purposes only, and limiting the number of people coming into the clinic.
- Follow strict handwashing and hygiene protocols, which include:
- Designate your practice/workplace as a temporary NO HANDSHAKE ZONE. Ask colleagues and clients to refrain from shaking hands (fist bumps or forearm bumps are good substitutes).
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; and between client/patient visits.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
- Place hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and tissues in all exam rooms, meeting rooms, restrooms, break rooms, lobbies and other common areas.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth, then throw the tissue into the trash can and wash your hands.
- Proactively communicate to both staff and pet owners the need for them to stay at home if sick. If you are ill with symptoms of respiratory disease, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue, stay at home. If you become ill during a shift, go home immediately. The CDC recommends that you remain at home until at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100° F or 37.8° C), signs of a fever and any other symptoms without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medications (e.g., cough suppressants).
- Follow guidelines and procedures laid out in the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarian’s Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel. While the primary focus of this resource is controlling the spread of pathogens between animals and veterinary personnel, many of its principles apply to infection control in general, and following it is simply good practice.
It is always a good idea to wash your hands and use appropriate hygiene before and after interacting with animals.