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

Last updated: 14 April 2020, 11:38

Advice by our animal welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines.

Many of us are very worried about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on our pets and so we have pulled together some Q&As to help you. 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 are up to date. 

Please note that the Government's guidance differs between Wales and England. We strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with the guidance for the area you live in to ensure you are 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 will update our advice accordingly. The following G&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 is little to no evidence that pets can be easily infected with Coronavirus and there has 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 10 pets have tested positive and with confirmation for COVID-19 globally. This is despite the fact that as of May 21, the number of infected people exceeded 5 million globally.

Like human hands, pet fur could carry the virus and so it is important to adopt good hygiene when interacting with our pets, especially if they could have been in contact with other people.  This is good advice at any time and not specific to the Coronavirus situation. 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 then if your cat is happy to stay in and is 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 do not recommend forcing a cat to stay in who is not used to it, as this may cause stress and even some serious health problems.

Do not 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 with a damp cloth or pet safe wipe may be beneficial, but be careful not to use excess water that may create a splash.

We are advising that everyone takes sensible precautions around their pets. You should also avoid touching other animals outside your home.

 Can pets catch COVID-19?

On May the 26th, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provided further figures showing that there is little to no evidence that pets can be easily infected with Coronavirus and there has 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 10 pets have tested positive and with confirmation for COVID-19 globally. This is despite the fact that as of May 21, the number of infected people exceeded 5 million globally. 

We are continuing to advise that everyone takes sensible precautions around their pets. This means thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after interacting with them and avoid being kissed or licked and sharing food with them. You should also avoid touching other animals outside your home.

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

If you are sick with coronavirus then 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 is not because there have been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with the virus but we still don't know everything about the virus. 

While you are ill another member of your household will need to take care of your animals and they will need to follow good hygiene practices washing their hands thoroughly after contact and any of their items e.g. bedding, food bowls. 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 and wear a facemask.

What should I do if my pet is ill?

Following the easing of restrictions across the UK, vets are now transitioning towards providing as full a range of veterinary services as possible. However this does not mean that they are returning to ¿business as usual¿ as they are only permitted to work if they can do so in a safe manner..f your pet is poorly or you have any concerns about their health, please phone your vet for advice. It is important not to take them to the practice unless you are told to do so. If your vet is not open then you should see if there is a message online or phone the practice and see if there is information on the answer phone advising them where to go. If these options do not work, you can use the online RCVS "find a vet" tool. Please note that many vet practices are busier than usual and they may not be able to deal with less urgent cases as quickly as normal. Please be understanding of these limitations when speaking to your vet.  

What do I do about my pet's vaccinations? 

Following the easing of restrictions across the UK, vets are now transitioning towards providing as full a range of veterinary services as possible in a safe manner.  However, they will still be working differently so they are able to comply with the safety guidelines. Vets have been advised to prioritise the most urgent cases and vaccinations will still need to be assessed on a case by case basis to ensure the most vulnerable animals are protected as a priority. For example, vets may prioritise primary vaccinations and year 1 boosters in dogs and cats as well as vaccinations in rabbits. Vets are now allowed to start doing less urgent vaccines such as annual boosters in adult dogs and cats, however not all practices will be able to start doing these immediately and there may be a longer waitlist than previously.  We would advise owners to contact their vet and discuss their pet's needs with them.

  • For unvaccinated kittens, we advise they are kept in until the point that these can be given as there are significant risks if these are not done. 
  • 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 present, and their urine, 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?

Following the easing of restrictions across the UK, vets are now transitioning towards providing as full a range of veterinary services as possible in a safe manner.  However, they will still be working differently so they can comply with safety guidelines. 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. There may be a longer wait time for neutering than there would be previously. 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 possibleite.  

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, 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 will need to discuss your pet's behaviour over the phone with the vet and the behaviour expert will carry out a remote consultation but this is something they are 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 else's dog?

Although there is 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 am, 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 is 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 provided information for horse owners.

How do I walk my dog during the Coronavirus pandemic?

If you are not showing signs of coronavirus or classed as extremely vulnerable, then you can now take unlimited exercise in England and exercise more than once a day in Wales. These periods can be used to walk your dog. You will need to keep two metres apart from other people and practice good hygiene. If you live in England you can drive to another place to exercise however be aware that driving from England to Wales to exercise is not allowed. In Wales, you will need to start and finish your walk from home.
 
If you are shielding because you are extremely vulnerable from Coronavirus you can now go outside but you must strictly follow social distancing and practice good hygiene. There is more guidance on shielding here for England and here for Wales. 
 
If you are ill with coronavirus, or are shielding and don't want to leave your home, 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 know that you are being shielded and follow the guidance set out here.

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 which 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 this is not their choice
  • Gradually adjust your routine to what it will be when you return to work i.e. feeding times and frequency, play times
  • Help prevent boredom whilst you are at work by providing puzzle feeders, toys and scratching posts - this is especially important for indoor cats
  • Your life may become a lot busier after lockdown but it's important to ensure 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 amount 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 interaction. 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 a comfy bed to lay on or a tasty chew to settle with.

  • Give them 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 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 your dog can use without you can help you to do this. 
  • Try to keep interaction time for when you will 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 are returning to using a dog walker, friend or family member to care for your dog while you are busy they 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?

How to keep children safe and dogs happy when staying at home

With schools closing due to coronavirus, our dogs and children will 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 - 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 for how they can spend their time together.
 

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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