By Dr Sara Elliott
Dr Sara Elliott, founder and director of veterinary services at British Veterinary Hospital, addresses concerns surrounding pets and Covid-19
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the following mass of information and misinformation surrounding its origins, there has been an unprecedented amount of uncertainty and doubt regarding pets and whether they can catch the virus or indeed be carriers.
The latest information from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association reassures pet owners Covid-19 cannot be caught or transmitted by dogs. However, this does not remove the possibility that their fur could harbour the virus in the same way a door handle, lift button or card machine can.
We encourage pet owners to maintain the precautionary sanitary measures when handling their pets. As always, after interacting with pets, it is advisable pet owners wash their hands before touching their faces or preparing food.
With the current social distancing regulations in place, dog owners are not able to provide their dogs with the daily exercise they are accustomed to. However, it is important to ensure dog owners are spending time with their dogs in order to keep up their mental agility by teaching them new tricks and investing in dog toys specially made to keep them occupied.
Once restrictions are lifted, owners must take extra steps when on their daily walks, such as not allowing others to touch their dog, keeping to designated spaces for dog owners and cleaning their dogs’ paws when they return.
Should pet owners need to bring their pet to the veterinary clinic for routine appointments or find themselves needing emergency care, our recommendation would be to clarify the sanitary and social distancing procedures in place at the clinic.
Making an appointment over the phone will allow the medical team to establish the nature of the problem. A teleconsultation can be conducted or medication can be delivered if the animal has a pre-existing or routine health condition already on file.
If an in-person appointment is required, your details will be taken by our staff while you remain in the car, and your pet will be brought inside for the examination to avoid unnecessary contact with other patients and their owners. The vet will then return to the car to discuss the results and hand your animal back to you, unless there is a requirement for your pet to be admitted for a procedure or observation.
However, it is advisable, where possible, to confirm whether we can collect your pet from your home and bring it back to you following the appointment. This will greatly reduce the risk of coming into contact with others. For routine vaccinations, in particular, this approach is advisable as it is important pet vaccinations don’t lapse, as this can impact their ability to travel in the future.
Many pet owners have not taken the time to consult with their vet to find out if there are any risks associated with contracting Covid-19 from the animals they live with. This has unfortunately led to an increased number of animals being surrendered, placing an additional burden on shelters already operating at capacity with a limited or no volunteers and a reduction in food donations due to social distancing rules.
During times such as these, pets can be a great source of comfort and companionship, helping their owners deal the change, uncertainty and isolation resulting from social distancing. Cats and dogs especially make excellent emotional support animals, and those who are able to may consider easing the burden on shelters by fostering an animal for a short period, if your local shelter is still allowing animals to go out to foster homes.
This not only allows the animal some respite from a crowded shelter but also offers foster families much-needed company as they navigate the current situation.