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As it stands, there’s no solid evidence that pets can be infected with Covid-19, nor that they can pass on the virus to humans.
That said, it’s recommended that if a person tests positive for coronavirus (or believes they might have it due to experiencing symptoms), they should restrict contact with animals, just as they would avoid other humans.
RSPCA animal welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines tells HuffPost UK: “There’s no evidence to suggest that pets can be carriers of coronavirus or can become ill from it themselves. We would urge pet owners not to panic and to not abandon their pets.”
The key advice from the government for pet owners is to wash hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals. Here’s what else you need to know.
People with symptoms of coronavirus should remain at home for seven days, or 14 days as a household, which for dog owners will make exercising their pooches quite difficult.
First and foremost, animal charities encourage people with suspected Covid-19 to try and keep their pets in a separate part of the home to where they are self-isolating – just to be on the safe side. “Avoid contact with your pet including stroking, petting, being kissed or licked and sharing food,” says Dr Gaines.
If you’re self-isolating, you should try to exercise your dog at home. There are still ways to keep your dog happy and healthy, says a Dogs Trust spokesperson, from involving their favourite treats to building doggy dens and treasure hunts. Go out in the garden (if you have one) and play fetch or run around to wear them out. If your dog can’t exercise at home, you should ask someone outside of your household to walk your dog for you.
RSPCA and the CDC advise wearing a face mask while interacting with your pet if you think you might have coronavirus, but don’t put one on them.
People without symptoms of coronavirus are allowed to leave their homes to exercise once a day as per the government’s lockdown measures. This trip should also be used to walk your dog. As always, you should remain two metres away from anyone outside of your household when out in public and wash your hands as soon as you come back from your walk. If possible, don’t let other people stroke your dog.
The lockdown guidance says you’re able to leave your home to provide care for, or help, a vulnerable person – and this includes walking a dog for someone who is unable to leave their home because they’re self-isolating or being shielded.
But there are some important things to remember. You should wash your hands before and after handling the dog and keep two metres away from other people and animals, including when handing over the dog to the owner. For extra measure you might want to take some hand gel with you when you’re walking the dog so you can regularly apply it.
The advice for cat owners is pretty limited. Official government advice is that you should wash your hands before and after any contact with your cat.
If you have a neighbour’s cat that visits, try to avoid contact with them – if that can’t be helped, wash hands thoroughly before and after touching them.
Again, cat owners with suspected Covid-19 are encouraged to try and keep their pets in a separate part of the home to where they are self-isolating. Cats will need access to the outdoors or a clean litter tray, as well as their food and water bowls. Most cats are better equipped if their owners are self-isolating as they can go outside on their own terms.
You should avoid contact with your cat including stroking, petting, being kissed or licked and sharing food if you think you have coronavirus.
Other animal owners
If you have a horse in livery and you think you might have coronavirus, you must not visit them whilst you are self-isolating. Contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements.
Or, if you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for them. Where this is not possible you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met – ensure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and stay two metres away from other people. If you’re too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call your local authority.
For those who don’t have symptoms of the virus, you should use your one opportunity to leave the house to provide care for your horse or livestock. Wash your hands before and after touching them.
What about the vets?
Self-isolating due to possible coronavirus? You shouldn’t be taking your pet to the vet. If they need urgent treatment, you must phone the vet to arrange the best approach to meet your pets’ needs.
For those who aren’t self-isolating, all non-essential trips to vets should also be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you can take them but must call the vet before heading there. Remember to wash your hands and remain two metres away from anyone outside of your household.
Dave Leicester, emergency vet for Vets Now, has shared what actually constitutes a pet emergency.
1. Breathing difficulties
Signs of breathing problems may be obvious, such as choking, gasping and pawing at the throat. Or, they may be more subtle such as breathing through the mouth, panting at rest or increased noise when breathing.
2. Open wound injuries
Heavy bleeding should always be considered an emergency and any bleeding that is a constant flow (especially if pulsing) or doesn’t stop in a few minutes also needs to be seen by a vet urgently.
3. Traumatic injuries
If your pet has been injured in a fall, from a window for example, or hit by a car.
4. Bloating in dogs
Bloating can be a sign of something called gastric dilation and volvulus, GDV, which is also known as torsion. It is a medical and surgical emergency which can be rapidly fatal if left untreated.
5. Failing to urinate
This can happen to any animal but is most common in male cats. If your pet can’t urinate it can lead to kidney failure, bladder rupture and death from internal poisoning.
6. Seizing and fitting
Regardless of whether your pet has had one fit or several, you should contact your vet urgently.
If you know your pet has eaten something poisonous – or even suspect it – call for help.
8. Eye injuries
Although damage, infection or injury to the eyes is unlikely to be life-threatening, they can threaten your pet’s sight and have a profound impact on their lives, not to mention cause them pain and discomfort. Eye problems can progress very rapidly, so do not delay seeking help.
9. Repeated vomiting
It’s quite normal for animals – dogs in particular – to be sick every now and again, so this isn’t necessarily an emergency. But if your pet is repeatedly sick, is generally unwell, can’t keep water down, is vomiting blood, or also has diarrhoea, then you should get them checked.
10. Birthing difficulties
Most dogs and cats give birth without any problem however, as a rule of thumb, female dogs shouldn’t go more than two hours between puppies, bleed a lot, or strain hard for more than 20 minutes without producing anything. It’s similar for female cats, although if they are straining non-productively for 20 minutes, consider it an emergency.
11. Severe pain and anxiety
If your pet is showing signs of severe pain or anxiety, they may well be warning you of serious unseen internal problems.
This occurs when a pet can no longer regulate their own body temperature and keep it at a normal level. It is the result of overheating, for example when pets are left in a hot car or conservatory. Organ damage can happen very quickly. Cooling them down too fast can actually make your pet worse, so seek your vet’s advice.
If your pet has been pulled from water, make sure they are checked by a vet as soon as possible.
14. Inability to weight bear or move limbs
Although broken bones or paralysis may not be life-threatening on their own, your pet may be in pain and there may be other injuries that need checked out.
Acute collapse in dogs may see your pet lose consciousness or they may remain conscious but seem anxious, confused or have a “glassy-eyed” appearance. If your pet collapses, even if they recover spontaneously, you should seek help from a vet straight away.
16. Rabbits not eating
Rabbits frequently hide signs of illness so behaviour such as loss of appetite or lack of faecal pellets, must be picked up right away. It may be a symptom of a common life-threatening condition called gut stasis. If you have concerns, contact your vet.