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coronavirus - self isolating with pets

Self-isolating with pets

With record numbers of people being told to self-isolate, it is important that as pet owners we consider the implications on our pets. Being told to self-isolate can cause a lot of anxiety, and we know our pets can have a calming influence, reducing our blood pressure and heart rate in times of stress. However, government advice for people self-isolating is to limit contact with animals, not to kiss or cuddle them, not to share food, food bowls or utensils and not to share bedding. The reason for this caution is the knowledge that pets can become infected with COVID-19 from close contact with infected humans.  It is a rare occurrence and infected pets have only shown mild clinical symptoms which lasted a few days. 

Can I catch COVID-19 from my cat or dog?

The WHO currently states that there is no known danger of pets spreading COVID-19, spread is predominantly from human to human. 

Whilst there is currently no evidence that infected pets can spread the disease to humans, there is still the danger that they can carry the virus on their fur from an infected human source.  For this reason, we should treat stroking someone else’s dog or cat as the equivalent to shaking hands with all members of that pet’s household. Something that should be avoided if possible and followed by thorough hand washing.

Should I still allow my cat to go outside?

If you are self-isolating due to COVID-19, the British Veterinary Association recommends keeping cats indoors in order to reduce the likelihood of your pets coming into contact with people from outside your household.  Keeping your cat indoors could prevent them from carrying the virus with them when they visit your vulnerable elderly neighbour for extra fusses.

A cat that is used to having access to the outdoors might find it distressing to be restricted, you can try to release some of that adventurous spirit by setting up food obstacle courses, playing with toys or laser pens. If keeping your cat indoors is not feasible, continue to follow strict hand hygiene before and after handling them.

Ensure your cat has a refuge in your home where they can escape from a now busier household. An extra litter tray, bed and water bowl in a quiet area of your home will help your cat to have some private time to unwind.

Can I still take my dog for a walk?

When self-isolating your dog should be exercised within the home if possible. If this is not sufficient, then you should ask someone who is not isolating to exercise your pet for you, or use a professional dog walking service. Ensure anyone exercising your dog is aware that you are self-isolating and that they should wash their hands before and after contact.

What if my pet has a medical emergency?

If you are self-isolating with pets it is best to have family or friends on stand-by to transport your pet in case they need emergency veterinary care. If it is not possible for another person to take your pet to the vet, then you may do so yourself. Tell the vet in advance that you are self-isolating and ensure good hygiene and distance is maintained to limit the possibility of virus transmission.

What do I do with my pets if I am ill?

Where possible people who are sick with COVID-19 should allow another member of their household to care for the pets. If there is no choice but to look after your pets yourself good hygiene practices should be used before and after time interacting. Arrangements should be made to care for your pet’s welfare in a situation where you become too ill to do so.

It is best to be prepared, speak to your family, friends, vet or local organisations about arranging care for your pet and have some supplies of food and medication ready.

Self isolating cat playing with toy

Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS

*Guidance taken from British Veterinary Association (BVA), UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and World Health Organisation (WHO) on 2nd Aug 2021.

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