Vet Q&A: Coronavirus (Covid-19) advice for self-isolating pet owners

by PDSA | 5 March #VetQ&As

I’m self-isolating myself as advised, can my pet stay with me? How do I look after my pet during this time?

Public Health England and the NHS have general guidance on what this means and how to self-isolate on their website. However, for pet owners self-isolation can pose a unique set of problems.

There is currently no evidence that pets can become sick from COVID-19, so it’s highly unlikely they are at risk. There is also no evidence that companion animals can transmit Covid-19 to people either, however it’s possible that the virus may survive on pets’ fur for a short time, as with other surfaces. The situation is changing rapidly though, and more is being discovered about this new virus as time goes on. Until more is known, it’s sensible to take precautionary measures to protect our pets.

We’d advise minimising contact with your pet as much as possible while you are sick. Maintaining good hygiene practices is always sensible, such as washing your hands with hot water and soap before and after handling and feeding.

If you are self-isolating because you or someone else in your house has symptoms, our vets have answered your most frequently asked questions below.

If you are not self-isolating and following the government’s Stay at Home guidance, we have separate advice on this.


Can my pet stay with me? Does my pet need to stay with someone else?

There is no need for your pet to stay somewhere else during this time. However, when self-isolating on medical advice, you will need to make sure your pets continue to be properly looked after. If this will be challenging then you could consider asking someone else to look after your pet during this time, but it’s not a requirement.

If your pet is staying with you, try to minimise contact as much as possible. Yes, this means avoiding snuggling or cuddling as much as possible until you are better! We know this is difficult, so it may help to have another person in your household take on the day-to-day care of your pet while you are ill. Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before and after touching your pet, their food or other pet related items, or when disposing of their waste, and follow all other NHS self-isolation guidelines. Avoid kissing your pet or letting your pet lick you, especially your face, and don’t share food with them.


Can my cat go outside?

Ensuring your cat continues to get daily activity is important for both their physical and mental health. While there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease to others, or become sick themselves, it’s advised to take precautions until more is known about this particular new strain.

If your cat is happy staying in, then it’s best to keep them inside for the period of your isolation, and clean their litter tray regularly. However, if staying indoors will cause them to become stressed then continue to let them out, but try to minimise interactions with them and wash your hands before and afterwards.

Any change to their routine, such as having people home all day, can cause stress in cats. We have advice for reducing stress in cats, plus ideas for indoor games with cats.


Can I walk my dog if I’m self-isolating? Is it safe for someone else to walk my dog for me?

You shouldn’t leave your house while self-isolating, so this would include taking your dog for a walk. If you have a private garden then you can take your dog there to go the toilet and to play games. However, a daily walk is really important for dogs’ physical and mental health, so if possible ask a friend or family member to take your dog out for you. You could also see if a professional dog walker can help you with this, but let anyone coming to collect your dog know in advance that you are self-isolating so they can take the proper precautions.

They won’t be able to come into your house, they’ll need to use their own lead, and should wipe the dog over with a clean damp cloth or disposable wipe before they touch them. Keep the handover as brief as possible and make sure you both wash your hands before and after handling the dog. It’s important to maintain a minimum two metre distance at all times.


Is it safe to stroke other people’s pets?

Although there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease, we’d advise taking sensible precautions until more is known. It’s possible that the virus could be passed onto other people via a pet’s fur, as on any surface. We’d suggest not interacting with pets owned by people who might themselves be self-isolating, just in case. If this is unavoidable, ensure you wash your hands after any contact.


Is it true that hand sanitisers/anti-bac gel is poisonous to dogs?

We are aware of a false post being shared on social media that suggests hand sanitisers contain Ethylene Glycol, a chemical that is found in antifreeze and is extremely toxic to pets. This isn’t true - hand sanitisers contain ‘ethanol’ (alcohol), not ethylene glycol. Ethanol (alcohol) can be harmful if ingested in a large quantity (i.e. an entire bottle), but it evaporates quickly and IS NOT HARMFUL if it’s licked in small quantities from your skin, or your pet’s fur. Please do not let this false information put you off using hand sanitiser products at this critical time.


What if I run out of pet food or other items?

We’d advise making sure you have a week’s supply of pet food in the house at all times. If you do find yourself running short of supplies and are unable to leave the house, then a local friend or family member could collect and drop these off to you. You could also order supplies online, just ask people to drop items at the door for you and make sure they don’t enter the house. Remember to secure your pet in another room before opening the door.


What if my pet needs to see a vet?

If your pet needs emergency vet care during this period, call your vet in the first instance. Please don't go to the vet without calling first. Don’t leave the house to go to your vet if you are self-isolating, you'll need to arrange for someone else to bring your pet in to be seen if needed.


My pet needs ongoing medication, can I get repeat prescriptions to ensure I don’t run out?

If you are worried about a pet that needs repeat medication, call your vet for advice. For certain repeat prescriptions, it may be possible for them to post or deliver these to you. If not, then you could arrange for someone else to collect these and drop them off for you.


Reducing contact with my pet will be stressful for me, what can I do?

We understand that for many people their pet can make a huge difference to your mental health. A period of isolation can be difficult and frustrating for everyone concerned. That’s why we recommend keeping your pet with you in most circumstances. You can still see them and enjoy their antics, and we’re just asking people to take sensible precautions until more is known about the way this particular coronavirus behaves. If you are finding things difficult, then the NHS has some guidelines on looking after your mental health.


If you’d like more information on the virus in pets or have any other pet health questions, try our Pet Health Hub.

For updates on PDSA’s services go to our updates page.

Always follow the latest guidance from the NHS on the Coronavirus.


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Last updated: 1 April 2020

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