How to care for your pets if you're ill or have to self-isolate due to coronavirus

Coronavirus in dogs and cats

It’s important to state that evidence of pets contracting covid-19 from their owners remains extremely rare, with only a few cases reported globally. The risk of human-to-animal infection is very small. However, the virus could be passed from person to person via surfaces such as a dog's fur, collar or lead.

We have compiled advice from our expert behaviour and clinic teams to help keep you and your pets as safe as possible.

We have compiled advice from our expert behaviour and clinic teams to help keep you and your pets as safe as possible.

Please note that the following information is based on the current advice available for people in England and Scotland. We will update this page as more information becomes available.

We are acutely aware that faced with current circumstances, many pet owners may be struggling to look after their pet. To help provide support to pet owners we have set up a dog & cat behaviour advice line on 02038878347 (Mon-Fri 8am-5pm).

What to do with your pet whilst on lockdown

If you have not tested positive for coronavirus and have not been asked to self-isolate, then you should continue to interact with your dog or cat as normal and follow Government advice on how to behave during the lockdown.

In line with Public Health England advice, you should adopt good hygiene practices, which includes washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after touching your dog or cat, or their food, toys or bedding. You should also avoid kissing your dog or cat, or being licked by them, or sharing food with them.

Even though there is no evidence that coronavirus can be carried by pets, washing your hands thoroughly in this way can help protect you against common infections that can pass between pets and humans.

When walking your dog, it is important that you try to remain at least one metre away from anyone outside of your household or support bubble.

Current guidance states that you may leave your house to provide care or help a vulnerable person. This includes walking a dog for someone who is unable to leave their house because they are self-isolating or being shielded. You should remember to 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.

If you are currently unable to walk your dog as often as normal, there are lots of ways to keep your dog happy and healthy without going for walks, by replacing exercise with other activities such as playing with them or teaching them a new trick. Or why not try these brain games with your dog to keep them engaged.

Remember your dog will still need to go outside to use the toilet so make sure they get regular access to the garden, or just outside your house, to go to the toilet.

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your dog or cat needs urgent treatment, you may take them, but must remember to wash your hands and remain at least one metre away from anyone outside your household or support bubble. You must call the vet before going to see them.

Speak to your vet or doctor if you need additional advice, or refer to Public Health England’s advice pages for the most up to date information.

Finally, in the event that a wider recommendation to self-isolate comes into effect, or that you or a member of your family specifically is asked to self-isolate, you should ensure that you have a good supply of your dog or cats’ food, cat litter and/or any medication.

Walking someone else's dog

You should only be walking someone else’s dog if, due to their individual circumstances, they are unable to do so themselves. This includes people who are key workers (NHS staff or similar), shielded (at particular risk from coronavirus) or the vulnerable and over 70s or people from a self-isolating household confirmed or suspected of having coronavirus (see below).

  • Consider each individual situation and how to safeguard the person you are assisting.
  • Agree the process in advance including time and duration of walk.
  • Walk the dog in the surrounding area of the owner’s home and ideally on a lead. You should avoid driving to another location to walk.
  • Find a way to collect and return the dog securely, in a way which maintains at least one metre distance between you and minimises any time spent in the owner’s home.
  • Never walk dogs from different households at the same time.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds using soap and water before leaving your home.
  • Wear gloves for the duration of any contact and dispose of them after use.
  • Use a different lead to the owner’s.
  • Ask someone from the household to open and close the doors for you.
  • Don’t handle anything else, such as your phone, during any time of contact.
  • Where possible, minimise touching the dog.
  • Maintain your social distance while walking, keep to quiet areas and don’t allow other people or pets to come into contact with the dog.
  • Wash the lead with soap and water once the dog has been returned.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds using soap and water as soon as you get home.

When walking a shielded person’s dog, it is especially important to protect their health:

  • Avoid any contact with the occupants of the home – maintain at least one metre distance.
  • Keep the dog on a lead to avoid them coming into contact with anyone or other pets.
  • Wipe the dog with a pet friendly disposable wipe or clean, damp cloth before returning to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the owner.

When walking a dog from a household where people have or are suspected of having Coronavirus, it is especially important to protect yourself and others:

  • Avoid any contact with the occupants of the home – maintain at least one metre distance.
  • Wipe the dog with a pet friendly disposable wipe or clean, damp cloth before the walk.
  • Keep the dog on a lead to avoid pets and other people touching them in case the virus is on their fur.
  • Take care when cleaning up after them; use a sturdy poo bag and dispose of it as soon as possible.

What to do if you need to self-isolate

First and foremost, there are lots of things you can do to ensure your dog or cat is as safe as possible, so don't panic.

If at all possible, arrange for another person to care for your dog or cat, until you're able to return to normal.

Always adopt good hygiene practices, which includes washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after touching your dog or cat, or their food, toys or bedding.

Cats

Cats will still need access outdoors or to a clean litter tray. As a precaution, it is sensible to keep your cat indoors if at all possible, during that time. But only cats from infected households or where their owners are self-isolating, and only if the cat is happy to be kept indoors. Some cats cannot stay indoors due to stress-related medical reasons.

Dogs

YYou won't be able to take your dog beyond your house or garden for exercise. However, there are lots of ways to keep your dog happy and healthy without going for walks, by replacing exercise with other activities such as playing with them or teaching them a new trick. Or why not try these brain games with your dog to keep them engaged.

Remember your dog will still need to go outside to use the toilet so make sure they get regular access to the garden, or just outside your house, to go to the toilet.

If your dog cannot exercise at home, you should ask someone outside of your household to walk your dog for you.

If you have any worries about your pet's health during self-isolation call your vet for advice, but do not visit the surgery in person.

What to do if you display coronavirus symptoms or are contacted by The NHS Track and Trace team

If you or someone in your household or social bubble displays COVID-19 symptoms, or you are notified by the NHS Track and Trace team that you have come in to contact with someone with suspected coronavirus, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Where possible, restrict contact with your dog or cat as a precautionary measure, and avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, or sharing food. If you do need to interact with your dog or cat, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them.

If possible, arrange for a friend or family member to care for them in their own home until you have recovered and no longer need to self-isolate.

If your pet shows signs of ill-health please call your vet to discuss your animal’s condition.Do not visit the surgery in person.

Comfort in crisis

Some of the UK’s most loved charities and experts have joined forces to offer advice and support to help owners care for their animals and each other during the Coronavirus.

The group, which includes Battersea and the British Vet Association, is concerned about conflicting and poor information which is leaving owners confused and anxious and animals potentially at risk.

The group has produced this infographic giving tips on topical subjects, such as how to look after your pet while looking after yourself and how to care for pets while social distancing.

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