How to Prepare Your Pet for COVID-19

Experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic is hard. We are living through a historic event, and our “new normal” is temporarily and dramatically altered. We are collectively scared and anxious. Our minds go to the worst case scenario. Unfortunately, everyone will be affected by this pandemic. It’s hard to know if you will be the one who has no symptoms, mild symptoms or will be fighting for your life in an intensive care unit. In this article, I am going to walk you through how to prepare your pet to shelter in place, and how to create a plan in the event you become hospitalized.

While this virus is usually more catastrophic for people 70 and older, there are many young, healthy adults fighting for their life on ventilators right now. For the sake of your pet, please follow through on this plan no matter your age or health status.

Pet preparedness for COVID shelter in place.

Many of our states and counties have already implemented a shelter in place mandate. It’s unknown how long this may last. While most of us are just fine to stay inside with our pets, we must prepare for possible supply chain shortages.

This is what I recommend having available for your pet:

  • 2 month supply of your pet’s medications. If your pet depends on medication to live, consider getting a 3-4 months supply depending on cost (your vet will understand!).
  • 2 month supply of your pet’s food. Currently the supply chain of pet food has been unaffected. However, if your pet’s food is shelf stable, consider getting a little extra.
  • 1 month supply of your cat’s litter. No one wants to live without this!

Preparing your pet if you get COVID-19.

Most people that are being hospitalized with COVID-19 take a turn for the worse very quickly. It’s important to have a plan before you ever get a symptom. If you live alone, let a neighbor or friend know of your plan in the event you need to go to the hospital.

I have created a worksheet for you to fill out that will double as instructions for anyone walking into your home. I made one for myself, and let my neighbor and good friend know where to find it. If you have friends and family that live alone, please pass this on to them and encourage them to fill it out.

Here is what you will want your pet caregiver to know about your dog or cat if you are unavailable: 

  • Your pet’s name and basic information
  • Your pet’s veterinarian (clinic name and phone number)
  • Emergency contact (another family member or friend if possible)
  • Your pet’s medical history and current conditions
  • Medications and supplements that your pet receives 
  • Pet’s diet (including brand of food, amount of food received daily, treats given, and any other diet protocol)
  • Any other relevant information about your pet and their personality (they love playing with laser pointers, they dislike cats, they are dog reactive)

Download our COVID Pet Preparedness printable checklist here

How to handle a pet whose guardian has COVID-19

If you get COVID-19, your pet’s temporary guardian will need to determine how they will care for your dog or cat. If your neighbor, friend or relative gets COVID-19, you will have to determine how you will care for their pet.

Dogs and cats can act as fomites, meaning they can carry infection on their fur or skin even if they themselves are not infected.

COVID-19 appears to be primarily transmitted via an infected person’s bodily secretions (like a sneeze or cough). Non-porous surfaces (like countertops, food and water bowls, and toys) appear to transmit the virus better than porous surfaces like pet fur. According to the AVMA, pet hair is probably a poor fomite for this reason. That said, there is much to learn about this novel virus and so an abundance of caution should be used when caring for a pet who has been exposed to this virus.

Two scenarios (with guidelines) to follow when caring for a pet who has been exposed to COVID-19:

Plan A: Remove pet from home immediately

If your loved one is infected with COVID-19 and unable to care for their pet, you have the option of removing their dog or cat from the house immediately to take on temporary guardianship.

Guidelines for Plan A:

  • Enter the pet’s home while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), especially gloves and a facemask. Bring your own pet carrier (a plastic crate is ideal as it’s easier to disinfect) for cats or small dogs, as well as your own leash for medium or large dogs if possible.
  • Wipe all non-porous pet needs (like crates, water and food bowls, and plastic toys) with disinfectant wipes
  • Place all porous pet needs (like pet beds, leashes, towels, clothe toys) into trash bag so that you can appropriately wash them later. 
  • Bring a fresh pair of clothes and shoes to change into immediately after leaving the home. 
  • Disinfect all articles of clothes, socks and shoes immediately by washing on a warm cycle. If this cannot be done immediately, bring a trash bag to place these items into during transit. 
  • Bathe cat or dog immediately. I recommend a pet shampoo with Chlorhexidine and use MAX Chlorhexidine 4% Shampoo in my practice. I would lather the pet and allow the shampoo to sit (if possible) for 10 minutes before rinsing. 
  • Clean or disinfect any item that was used to transport the pet, such as your crate or leash. 
  • Dispose of PPE (gloves and facemask) by double bagging and removing to outside trash immediately. 

Plan B: Leave pet in home for 72 hours before taking on temporary guardianship 

It is presumed that COVID-19 can persist on certain surfaces for up to a few days. You may decide to have the exposed pet quarantine in the contaminated residence for 3 days with minimal contact before bringing them to your home. Or you may decide to care for the pet in their home until their guardian returns or an alternative plan is put into place.

Guidelines for Plan B: 

  • Enter the pet’s home while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), especially gloves and a facemask.
  • Visit the pet twice daily for feedings, medications and supplement administration, and quick potty break. 
  • Ensure potty break for dogs are either within the resident’s yard or by the front entrance of home, at least 6 ft from other humans or animals. 
  • Scoop kitty litter box once daily.
  • Make visits brief, limiting what you touch and how long you are in the home. 
  • Bring a fresh pair of clothes and shoes to change into immediately after leaving the home. 
  • Disinfect all articles of clothes, socks and shoes immediately by washing on a warm cycle. If this cannot be done immediately, bring a trash bag to place these items into during transit. 
  • Dispose of PPE (gloves and facemask) by double bagging and removing to outside trash immediately. 
  • Use a new set of gloves at each visit.

Download our COVID Pet Preparedness printable checklist here

This is a scary time. As a public health officer and veterinarian, it is my job to provide recommendations and information to pet parents that will allow for them to best care for their cat or dog (even in their absence). I want you to feel supported and prepared!

What did I not cover? How are you feeling and where can I continue to help? Please leave a comment below and let’s talk.

Big hugs, 
Dr. Angie

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