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Pets and COVID-19

During this extraordinary time, information is changing rapidly. THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED ON APRIL 1, 2020. Thank you to Dr. Emilia Gordon, BC SPCA for sharing this important information.

Essential Service

On March 26, the BC government announced veterinarians and shelters, which include animal rescue organizations are essential services. They must, however, follow the orders and guidance provided by the PHO to ensure safe operations and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. In addition, currently, any business or service that has not been ordered to close and is also not identified on the essential service list may stay open if they can adapt their services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the PHO.

Intake and Handling of Pets from COVID-19 Positive Households

A small new (not yet peer-reviewed) study from China looked at experimental infection in various species. The ferrets and cats became infected and were able to transmit the virus to each other, with younger cats being more susceptible. Some of the dogs became infected but did not transmit the virus to each other. Thankfully, the pigs and poultry did not become infected.

As well, a cat (asymptomatic) in Hong Kong living with an infected person was found to be positive. This is the second cat who has tested positive under non-experimental conditions.

The AVMA has published updated recommendations for shelters for the intake of animals coming from COVID-19 positive households.  You can read the recommendations here.  The significant changes from the initial recommendations are that pets do not have to be bathed upon intake as there is no evidence that animals can spread the virus to humans.  However, the recommendations take an abundance of caution in the spread of the virus from pet to pet and are recommending that animals from COVID-19 positive households be segregated from other animals for 14 days. 

Dr. Sandra Newbury from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has created the new sample shelter intake protocol

As such the BC SPCA has updated their handling protocols, and they are outlined below.  

“Animal handling for animals originating from households with confirmed or suspected human cases (section updated March 31, 2020).”

“Personnel must wear PPE when entering a contaminated environment (such as an infected person’s home- CID and bylaw enforcement officers), when handling an exposed animal as for intake processing, or bathing. Field staff should attempt to not enter homes of known affected people if at all possible. For these purposes, PPE includes gown, gloves, shoe covers, and cap. For the standard intake of these animals, full PPE is not required, but it is recommended to wear a separate outer garment and wear gloves between animals for all intakes.”

  • Utilize double-sided housing so feeding and cleaning can be completed without handling the animal if needed.
  • These animals should not be housed in the general population. They should be in separate rooms (ISO or another room).
  • Restrict access by the public and nonessential personnel, as with any isolation population.
  • Caretakers of these animals should wear standard PPE for shelter isolation (Level 2 or 3 depending on species) with washable PPE preferred over disposable PPE (refer to Reusable PPE SOP).
  • Animals do not need to be bathed or decontaminated at intake. New recommendations indicate that animal haircoats are unlikely to cause fomite transmission.
  • Disinfect exposed surfaces in common use areas where exposed animals have contacted (floors,
    gurneys, animal control vehicles, tables, handling equipment, etc).
  • Segregation for 14 days is currently recommended. This recommendation is to protect animal and human health, out of an abundance of caution. The 14-day period is due to the risk of animals becoming infected (not due to surface contamination) until more is known about animal infection.
  • Animals should not be sent to foster or adoptive homes within the 14-day window unless they are being returned to their original home.
  • If at all possible, intake of animals from affected homes should occur directly into foster homes
    with no other animals, bypassing a shelter stay entirely (intake vet treatments should still be done but animals should not be housed in a shelter). Fosters should follow the same general precautions as the shelter, and be notified of risk and protocols.
  • While in care, our usual welfare programs apply. Dogs should still be walked (using separate designated routes and no contact with people who aren’t wearing PPE) and animals should engage in social contact with humans if they choose to do so (humans must wear PPE). Do not kiss animals or allow them to lick your face. The usual guidelines for hand hygiene, food consumption in areas separate from animals, etc should also be followed.

“At this time, these guidelines are issued out of an abundance of caution and apply only to animals from known affected human households, not to all intakes or animals with an unknown history.”

Animal Transport

The BC CDC has also published a Q & A document relating to pets. Of particular importance is their recommendation that “importers, rescue organizations and adoptive families should avoid importing animals from areas where COVID-19 is currently circulating”. Given that the virus is circulating in every country it is our recommendation that the importing of animals should cease immediately until the pandemic is over.

In order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is recommended that animal transports be temporarily suspended. Transporting animals is an important component of saving more lives. During this time, animal shelters and rescues will play important roles in supporting pets in their local communities by helping them remain in their homes as much as possible and be able to intake them when necessary.

Spay and Neuter

Veterinarians in BC have been advised by the CVBC to not conduct non-essential and elective procedures. This includes spay and neuters. Dr. Julie Devy writes an open letter in support of such directives.

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