Caring for your pets during the coronavirus pandemic: Q&A

Caring for your pets during the coronavirus pandemic: Q&A

Last updated: 5th February 2021.

Advice by our animal welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines.

Many of us are very worried about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our pets and so we've pulled together some Q&As to help owners. The UK and Welsh governments are issuing regular updates on the virus and what we need to do so please do keep coming back to make sure you're up to date. 

Please note that the government's guidance differs between Wales and England. We strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with the guidelines for your area to ensure you're following the correct advice.

We're monitoring the situation around the cases of COVID-19 and other animals very closely. Should the situation change we'll update our advice accordingly. The following Q&As are based on the most up to date information available.

Can pets transmit/pass/spread COVID-19 to people?

On May the 26th, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provided further figures showing that there's little to no evidence that pets can be easily infected with coronavirus. There's also been no evidence to date that pets transmit the virus to people.

During the first five months of the COVID-19 outbreak (January 1 - May 21, 2020) fewer than ten pets have tested positive with confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally. This is despite the fact that as of May 21, the number of infected people exceeded five million globally.

As is the case at any time and not specific to the coronavirus situation, it's important to adopt good hygiene when interacting with our pets, especially if they could have been in contact with other people. This means thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after interacting with them and avoiding being kissed or licked and sharing food with them.

If you or someone in your house is ill with the virus and your cat is happy to stay in and used to using a litter tray, then keeping them in may be advisable. If they go outside a lot then try to minimise interactions and wash your hands afterwards. We don't recommend forcing a cat to stay in who isn't used to it, as this may cause stress and even some serious health problems.

Never use disinfectants on your cat as many household human disinfectants are toxic to cats. If you have to handle a cat that has been in a COVID-19 positive house, then wiping him or her with a damp cloth or pet safe wipe may be beneficial, but be careful not to use excess water that may create a splash.

All in all, we're advising that everyone takes sensible precautions around their own pets and avoids touching other animals outside of their home.

Can I walk my dog during the latest lockdown?

England: 5th January 2021 onwards

England has entered a period of lockdown. If you're not showing signs of coronavirus or self-isolating then you can use your daily exercise to walk your dog. Although the government generally advises you should exercise once a day, you can go out more often if you need to walk your dog but should limit this where possible.

You will need to stay two metres apart from anyone outside of your household or support bubble. Putting your dog on the lead when walking in areas with other dogs will help ensure you can stay two metres away from others. 

Wales: 20th December 2020 onwards

Wales is currently in the Welsh Government's tier four national lockdown. You can leave home as often as you want to exercise and although there are no limits on the distance you can travel during exercise but the nearer you stay to your home, the better. Your exercise must start and finish from your home. You should exercise alone or with members of your household, follow guidance on social distancing and practice good hygiene.
If you can't leave your home because you have symptoms, have tested positive, are awaiting test results for coronavirus or live in the same household as someone who has symptoms or tested positive for coronavirus, then you should use your garden as a place for your dog to toilet and play. A friend, relative or someone in your community may be able to help walk but they will need to follow advice on walking someone else's dog.

Can I walk my dog while self-isolating in the UK after my holiday?

Government guidance states that you must only exercise within your home or garden while self-isolating in quarantine after returning to the UK from non-exempted countries. This means that you cannot leave your home to walk your dog. Therefore, you'll need to ask friends or relatives to temporarily pick up your dog's walking routine or hire a commercial dog walker. Read our blog to find out how to keep your dog fit and healthy while having less frequent walks and spending more time at home during self-isolation.

What should I do with my pet if I or someone in my family is ill with coronavirus?

If you're sick with coronavirus, current advice recommends restricting contact with your pets and other animals just like you would around other people. You also need to avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food. This isn't because there have been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with the virus but because we still don't know everything about the virus. 

While you're ill, another member of your household will need to take care of your animals and they'll need to follow good hygiene practices, washing their hands thoroughly after contact with your pet or any of their items e.g. bedding, food bowls etc. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you're sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them and also wear a facemask.

What should I do if my pet is ill?

If your pet is poorly or you have any concerns about their health, please phone your vet for advice. It's important not to take them to the practice unless you're told to do so. Veterinary practices will be risk assessing each case using their professional and clinical judgement to assess whether they need to see your pet or if they can provide services remotely.

Many vets are busier than usual so there may be a longer than usual wait for less urgent treatments. Please bear this in mind when speaking to your vet. If your vet is not open then you should see if there's a message online or phone the practice and see if there is information on the answerphone advising pet owners where to go. If these options do not work, you can use the online RCVS "find a vet" tool.

What do I do about my pet's vaccinations? 

Practices will be using their clinical and professional judgement on a case by case basis and the most urgent cases and vaccinations will need to be assessed to ensure the most vulnerable animals are protected as a priority. Routine vaccinations are unlikely to be offered by vets at this time.

If your pet's vaccinations are overdue, we would advise owners to contact their vet and discuss their pet's needs with them. Owners should appreciate that vets are likely to be busy dealing with emergency and urgent appointments and vaccinations are unlikely to be performed.

  • For unvaccinated kittens, we advise that they're kept in the house until they can be vaccinated to avoid the risks.
  • For unvaccinated puppies (who have not received the full course), you should avoid areas where other dogs could have been while also following our advice about vital socialisation.

Adult dogs and cats have a three-month leeway after their booster is due, and for some of the diseases, the protection is longer. However, immunity to leptospirosis or Weil's disease may lapse beyond 15 months and so we would recommend that taking measures to protect your dog from stagnant water and water courses where there may be rats (and their urine) present, is sensible. 

For more information about the impact of coronavirus on your equine's vaccination schedule please visit the Rossdale website.

What do I do about getting my kitten neutered?

Practices will be using their clinical and professional judgement on a case by case basis and cases will need to be assessed to ensure the most vulnerable animals are protected as a priority. Most vets will not be performing neutering unless there's a clear welfare need. Vets will still be prioritising cats most at risk of unwanted pregnancy; for example, where there are male and female kittens in the same household. However, there may be a longer wait time for neutering than there would have been.

We would advise owners to contact their vet and discuss their kitten's needs with them and to keep your kitten in until he/she has been neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is particularly important for female kittens as they can become pregnant at four months of age. If you worry that your cat may have been mated, it's not too late to act, so contact your vet as soon as possible.

What should I do if I have concerns about my pet's behaviour?

Pets can develop a range of behaviour problems, such as aggression, destructiveness, inappropriate toileting, self-mutilation, inappropriate vocal behaviour, nervousness and excessive manifestations of fear. Sometimes these behaviours can be caused by an underlying medical or health issue so it is important to get your pet checked by a vet first to rule this out and they can then refer you to a behaviour expert if necessary.

Given the coronavirus pandemic, you'll need to discuss your pet's behaviour over the phone with the vet and the behaviour expert will carry out a remote consultation but don't worry, this is something they're used to doing. It is important to find a suitably qualified behaviourist. Visit the Animal Behaviour and Training Council to find a list of clinical animal behaviourists.

Can I stroke other people's pets or walk someone's dog?

Although there's no evidence that pets can spread the disease, we would advise avoiding contact with other people's pets. If you do want to walk someone else's dog then please follow the guidance provided in our dog walking infographic.

Can my cat go outside if I or someone in my family is ill with the virus?

If your cat is used to staying in then try and keep them inside making sure they have access to their litter tray and that it's cleaned regularly. If your cat is used to coming and going as they please, keeping them inside could be very stressful and may make them ill. We would advise minimising interactions with them and washing your hands thoroughly after contact with them or any of their items.

Can I still travel to feed my horse?

Yes but you must follow UK and Welsh government guidance and stay at least two metres away from other people. The British Horse Society has more information for horse owners.

How do I prepare my cat for life post-lockdown?

Any changes in routine should be introduced gradually:

  • Ensure your cat has hiding places and elevated resting places - this help relieve stress for cats by offering them a safe place to hide.
  • Ensure you aren't over handling your cat to try and comfort them. Being picked up or followed around can add to their stress if being over handled isn't their choice.
  • Gradually adjust your routine to what it will be like when you return to work, for example, feeding times and frequency, as well as playtimes.
  • Help prevent boredom whilst you're at work by providing puzzle feeders, toys and scratching posts - this is especially important for indoor cats.
  • Remember, your life may become a lot busier after lockdown but it's important that you still spend quality time with your cat every day.

How do I prepare my dog for life post-lockdown?

Gradually change the timings of your dog's routine to the way they will eventually be. If the time you feed or walk your dog has changed due to lockdown, then slowly start to change it back to how it was before. Doing this can prevent your dog from experiencing frustration and anxiety when their daily schedule suddenly doesn't match what they've come to expect.

Begin to gradually return your dog's routine to normal before it has to change. Consider the number of walks, location and times that are part of your dog's normal routine. Gradually adjust your walks to match this. Our dogs may not be left alone at all during lockdown or for brief intervals only, and they're probably getting much more attention and experiencing more interactions too. If this is likely to change when you go back to work then you need to prepare them for that.

Begin to gradually decrease the amount of attention you give your dog, and increase the time they spend on their own. This may include not playing with your dog every time they ask or not stroking them every time they nudge you. Don't completely ignore your dog as this may confuse them, but do give them something better to do, like lay in a comfy bed or chew on a tasty chew. This should help to settle them.

  • Give your dog a routine as close as possible to the one they'll experience when restrictions are lifted. Help your dog spend more time alone by encouraging them to rest in their own bed or by keeping them in a separate room while you do something else.
  • Give your dog clear signals about when they can be involved in interactions and when they need to occupy themselves. Chew toys or interactive toys that your dog can use without you can help with this.
  • Try to keep interaction time for when you'll be available once your routine is back to normal, for example, in the evenings after dinner.
  • You may also want to think about leaving the house without the dog to help your dog to gradually get used to this part of their routine again. If you need to build up this time for a longer duration or for more frequent absences, think about going to sit in the car to read a book so that you can leave the house and stay within government guidelines. However, if your dog shows any distress when left alone, then pause your plans and seek the support of a qualified behaviourist.
  • If you're returning to using a dog walker, friend or family member to care for your dog while you're busy, your dog might be very excited or even a little apprehensive having spent time with only you. It can be useful for you to remain home on the first walk or two, just in case your dog needs any extra support from you.

I have a new puppy, how should I socialise him/her?

I have a new kitten, how should I socialise him/her?

Can ferrets catch and transmit coronavirus?

Whilst it's possible for ferrets to catch and transmit Covid-19, the risks of them doing so are considered to be very low. If you need to self-isolate, your ferrets should also be isolated for 21 days. During this time, it's advisable to take precautions when around your ferrets, such as, wearing gloves and a face covering when you come into contact with them and their resources (e.g. food and water bowls, bedding, toys) and to keep handling to a minimum.

Ensure that you maintain good hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing, particularly before and after handling your ferrets and their resources, as well as avoiding close facial contact between yourself and your ferrets. If possible, a member of the household who isn't thought to have Covid-19 should be the one to care for the ferrets. Whilst the disease in ferrets is usually mild if you notice a loss of appetite, lethargy, respiratory or digestive signs, contact your vet for further advice.

More information about ferrets and coronavirus has been issued by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

How can I keep children safe and dogs happy at home?

During the lockdown, our dogs and children will likely be spending a lot more time together. Dogs and children can be the best of friends but they do communicate very differently from one another. For example, dogs find it hard to tell children that they don't like something and children can behave in ways which dogs can find scary or worrying. We've got lots of information on how to keep your dog happy and children safe as well as ideas on how they can spend their time together.

Find out more about caring for your pets during the coronavirus pandemic.

We need your help...

Our priority will always be helping animals in need. As the situation around coronavirus unfolds, we'll continue to do everything that we can to rescue and care for needy animals. Our animal rescuers will carry on with their vital work and we'll always continue to provide you with our latest advice.

As this uncertain situation progresses, we're expecting extra strain to be put on our centres as volunteers are unable to work. Sadly, we also expect to lose many of our vital donations as a result of pulling our face-to-face fundraising activity including choosing to cancel our vital fundraising events. We're also aware that we may be faced with countrywide charity shop closures.

As a charity, we've always relied on the generosity of kind supporters to enable us to do the work that we do and now, more than ever, we need your help. The truth is, we couldn't rescue the animals that we do without your kind support. So, if you find yourself saving a little extra petrol money at the moment, please know that your spare change could mean a world of difference to an animal in need...

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