Caring for our pets during COVID-19
Greetings everyone. As you read this, we hope that you and your human and animal family are doing well and staying safe. During this time of COVID-19, our lives have been impacted in numerous ways and many of us feel uncertain about the near and distant future. Yet, one thing remains a constant – our love for our pets. We recognize, now perhaps more than ever, that our pets offer us much needed support, love and companionship.
There are many questions and concerns related to pets and the changes brought about by COVID-19, and we hope to address some of these in the following short document. We start by talking about concerns related to catching or giving your pet COVID-19 and how to protect your pets if you are sick.
We then discuss some veterinary care challenges you might be experiencing right now including financial concerns and changes to your veterinary clinic’s protocols and the impact these things might have on your veterinary care choices. Taking your pet to the veterinarian during these times involves some new considerations, and this is especially relevant for those facing the already difficult decision to euthanize.
We know that this is a time when extra support and accurate timely information is needed, and we hope you will find this resource to be helpful.
COVID-19 – health risks – getting or giving COVID-19 to/from your pets
COVID-19 is one type of a coronavirus. Some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to humans and then spread between people, but this is rare. COVID-19 appears to have originated in animals and spread to people.
Risk of pets giving people COVID-19
The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mostly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking. At this time, there is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to people, for example by petting the fur of an animal who was exposed to someone with COVID-19 (see CDC and the World Organization for Animal Health).
Risk of people giving COVID-19 to their pets
CDC is aware of a very small number of dogs and cats that are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 after close contact with people with COVID-19. There are no evidence that any of these pets have become sick with COVID-19.
The Bronx Zoo confirmed that at least one of its tigers tested positive for the virus, likely after being exposed to a zoo employee. The CDC is monitoring this situation and will continue to provide updates as information becomes available.
Protect your pets if you are sick
If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), it is suggested that you restrict your contact with your pets, just like you would around other people. When possible:
- Have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick.
- Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.
- If you must care for your pet while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
Protect your pets if you get sick
It is suggested that you identify a caretaker for your pet in case you become ill. Specifically:
- Talk with your identified caretaker and make sure that they agree and can care for your pet if needed.
- Give your caretaker specific instructions and a plan to enable they can access your pet if needed.
For more info:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- American Veterinary Medical Association
- COVID-19 in Companion Animals webinar
- Michigan State University College of Veterinary medicine
- University of Florida – advice for pet owners
- The Association For Animal Welfare Advancement
Access to Veterinary Care
Many pet owners have concerns about veterinary care during this time. This section discusses the following veterinary related concerns:
- Availability of your veterinarian
- New hours
- Current protocol
- Types of appointments currently seeing
- Specific concerns about euthanasia
If you are concerned about your ability to pay for veterinary care, talk openly with your veterinarian about your options. These might include alternative medical options, possible payment plans or Care Credit. Many people are financially struggling right now; it is ok to admit your financial limitations and ask your veterinarian to work with you to find a solution.
Before you need services is the time to call or access your veterinarian’s website to check on their availability. Many veterinarians have changed or limited their hours or closed completely. If your veterinarian is not available, ask for guidance in selecting an alternative option if needed.
Many veterinary clinics are open but have modified their protocols. It is important to know your veterinarian’s current protocol. For example, many veterinary hospitals have implemented ‘curb-side’ care in which veterinary staff meet clients in the parking lot and take their pets into the hospital/clinic. The client then waits in their car for the veterinarian to call them to discuss diagnosis and treatment. The staff take payment over the phone and bring the patient back outside to the client. In this way, clients are not risking themselves or the veterinary staff by coming inside the hospital.
Emergency or an urgent care
Another temporary change that many veterinary clinics have implemented is to limit their appointments to emergency or urgent care visits only. What is considered an emergency or an urgent need for veterinary care varies between hospitals and on a case-by-case basis. Typically, things like elective surgery or wellness exams are not considered urgent, but even with these, there are exceptions. When in doubt, contact your veterinarian to determine if your concern is an emergency or urgent. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask.
Euthanasia during anytime is stressful and difficult, but COVID-19 can exacerbate these challenges through hospital protocol changes or personal financial constraints.
If you have a pet potentially nearing the end of its life, if at all possible, check with your veterinarian on their current euthanasia protocols before the appointment. Each hospital is handling euthanasia appointments differently. Some veterinary hospitals are making exceptions and allowing clients into the building for euthanasia, while others are moving the appointment to outside or in clients’ cars. It is important to best prepare yourself by knowing your veterinarian’s protocol. If these options do not feel acceptable, inquire about alternative options such as in-home euthanasia.
Euthanasia or re-homing
If you are considering surrendering or euthanizing your pet because of COVID-19 concerns, we suggest first asking for help from your support system to see if anyone is able to take care of your pet, even if it’s only a temporary arrangement. This could include friends, relatives, work colleagues, and even people outside of your immediate circle such as pet sitters or dog walkers. In addition, if you are concerned about your ability to care for your pet, you may want to consider writing out a will and/or trust that provides for your pet (https://www.2ndchance4pets.org/help.html). We also suggest you designate someone to care for your pet if you become ill.
If you decide you need to surrender or euthanatize your pet, we suggest some ways to keep your beloved pet with you emotionally, even after they are no longer physically present. Some of these include:
- Take a photo or video with you (and your loved ones) with your pet.
- Clip some of your pet’s fur so that you can always have it with you.
- Keep their collar and tags or other belongings in order to feel close.
We also have found the following thoughts and suggestions helpful to many as they work through the grief that can accompany surrender or euthanasia:
- Know that grief is a normal reaction to a significant loss but everyone grieves differently. There is no right way to do it and no timetable as to when it ends.
- With the loss of a pet, people may not understand or support us the way we need. Share your heart just with people you trust who will understand the depth of your loss and feelings. Seek out people who validate your grief and take it seriously.
- Access virtual support (individual therapy, pet loss support group, forums, etc).
- Above all else, know that you are doing the best you can and be kind to yourself; cultivate as much self-compassion as you possibly can during this very difficult time.
There is no denying that while pets can provide tremendous comfort during this time, there are also unique concerns and worries about how best to care for them. Please know you are not alone with these thoughts, questions and concerns. If you have additional questions or comments, please feel free to email us at:
Cori Bussolari, PSY.D; Wendy Packman, PhD; Phyllis Erdman, PhD; Lynn Planchon, PhD; and Lori Kogan, PhD.