How to care for your pets when carrying out 'social distancing' or staying at home due to Coronavirus: Q&A

Last updated: 01 April 2020, 10.19

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 Government is 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. 

Can coronavirus infect pets?

There is currently no evidence that companion animals can be infected with, or spread, the version of coronavirus which is affecting people: 2019- nCOV or Covid 2019. However, it is important to adopt good hygiene practices which is good advice at any time and not specific to the Coronavirus situation. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after interacting with your pets and their items and avoid being kissed or licked and sharing food with them.

What should I do with my pets if I am socially distancing? 

Social distancing shouldn't have too much of an impact on your pets but it is worth planning for what your pet needs should you be required to stay at home. For example, you will need to make sure you have enough food and water for your pet, any bedding or substrate they need for their enclosure and if your pet requires regular medication, enough for the period you need to stay at home.

You should also think about who could help if your pet needed to go to the vet. In many cases, it is possible to get help from friends, family or items quickly delivered to your door but thinking about this now can help you be prepared.

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?

If 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 answerphone advising them where to go. If these options do not work, you can use the online RCVS "find a vet" tool. Please note that vets have been advised to provide emergency care only so please be understanding of these limitations.

What do I do about my pet's vaccinations? 

During the three week lockdown, which started on the 23rd of March, vets are suspending or delaying vaccinations.  

  • 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 watercourses where there may be rats present, and their urine, is sensible. Visit Rossdale for more information about the impact of coronavirus on your equine's vaccination schedule.  

What do I do about getting my kitten neutered?

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) has advised vets to suspend or delay neutering during the initial lockdown period which started on the 23rd of March. We strongly advise that you 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.

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 still walk my dog?

Yes, you can use your daily exercise to walk your dog. You will need to keep two metres apart from other people and each person in your house can only go out once a day. For example, if you live alone you can take your dog out once but if two people live in your house each person can take your dog out once or you can both take your dog out once together. If you live alone and your dog needs to go to the toilet then you can take them outside but make sure these trips are only for the time needed for the dog to toilet and ensure you maintain your social distance.

If you or someone in your family is showing signs of 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 know that you are ill and follow the measures set out by the Government. If you absolutely have to take your dog out because none of these options are possible then walk at a safe distance from other people and minimise the time you are outside.

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 Government guidance and stay at least two metres away from other people. The British Horse Society has provided information for horse owners.

What can I do to keep my cat entertained indoors?

When looking after house cats it's important to keep them mental and physically stimulated.

What can I do to keep my dog entertained indoors?

Mental stimulation is a great way to keep your dog entertained and occupied so you can keep your dog happy by replacing exercise with other activities until you are able to take them back out for their usual walks.

Try challenging your pooch at tea time - ditch the food bowl and feed Fido using a Kong or a food puzzle to get them thinking. 
Play, play, play! Most dogs love to play so set aside some time to have a good game of fetch or tug with your pooch. 
Learning a new trick or command is great mental stimulation for a dog. Get out their favourite treats and try teaching your dog how to wave his paw, 'sit', 'lie down' or 'roll-over'.

Get him sniffing - scent work can be a great way to keep them busy for ages! Hide treats around the garden or around the house and send them off in search of them. If you feed your dog kibble this can be a great way to serve them their meals!

Remember toilet breaks - remember your dog will still need to go outside to use the toilet so make sure they get regular access to the garden to potter, sniff and wee.

Spotify has recently launched 'My Dog's Favourite Podcast' which has a range of carefully selected spoken word, sound and original music designed to encourage relaxation.

Can I train my dog to toilet indoors?

Yes, this is possible. First of all, create an area which can be used as a toilet. There are lots of indoor toilets that can be bought for this purpose or you could use items like artificial grass and puppy pads. It is important to use something that wouldn't normally be in the room so that once you can start walking your dog outside again your dog doesn't continue to toilet in the house. As male dogs tend to lift their leg to urinate, having something they can use, such as a stone, will help. 

Start to train your dog to use this area by taking them to it at a time when you think they need to go to the toilet e.g. in the morning, after food, sleeping and exercise. If they don't go then move away from the area and keep a close eye for signs that your dog might want to go to the toilet and try again. This can include sniffing the floor or standing at the door you would normally use to leave the house.

It is really important that you adopt good hygiene practices when handling urine or faeces and after cleaning the toilet area. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. You will also need to keep the toilet area clean using a suitable disinfectant.

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

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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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