Vet Q&A: Coronavirus advice for self-isolating pet owners

by PDSA 

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 has 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 the new Coronavirus (COVID-19), so it’s highly unlikely they are at risk. There is also no evidence that companion animals can spread Covid-19 to people either, although maintaining good hygiene practices is always sensible, such as washing your hands with hot water and soap before and after handling and feeding.

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.

If you are self-isolating (either due to having some symptoms, or because you have been advised to do so after being in contact with a confirmed case), here’s our vets’ advice:

(Please note, this advice does not apply to those who might be advised to follow social distancing.)

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. 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.

If your cat normally goes outdoors, it is advised to keep them indoors for the period of your self-isolation. While there is no evidence that pets can spread the disease to others, or become sick themselves, it’s advised to take precautions until more is known about this particular new strain. Staying indoors can be stressful for cats if they are not used to it. 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 book a professional dog walker, but let them know in advance that you are self-isolating. Keep the handover as brief as possible and make sure you both wash your hands before and after handling the dog. Maintain a minimum two metre distance at all times.

Is it safe to stroke other people’s pets? Can I still feed stray cats?

Although there is no evidence that pets can spread the disease, we’d advise taking sensible precautions until more is known. 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 dog 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 friends or family could 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 vet care during this period, call your vet in the first instance. Don’t leave the house to go to your vet if you are self-isolating. Your vet may be able to arrange for someone else to bring your pet in for an appointment if needed.

My pet needs ongoing medication, can I get bigger prescription 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. 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.

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