FAQ: A friend or family member has tested positive for COVID-19 and may be hospitalized. They have asked me to care for their pet. Can I do that, and how?
Thanks for asking, and for offering to help your friend. The following advice is based on current knowledge and research and the CDC’s interim recommendations for caring for pets of COVID-19 positive owners. It is important to know the risks and decide for yourself, in conversation with your physician and your family, on whether you can perform these duties.
You likely have these options:
- the pet can stay in its own home and you can care for it there (ideal for cats, small mammals primarily)
- the pet may be taken to your home and cared for there
- the pet may be able to go to a boarding facility
Things to consider:
- SARS-CoV2 has been reported to be found present on surfaces such as metal and hard plastic for up to 3 days. The home of an infected person likely has live virus on surfaces for several days after they leave.
- According to the CDC and AVMA, there is no evidence that pets act in the transmission of SARS-COV2 to people. However, the virus can live on surfaces for hours to days, and so the home of a COVID-19 patient is more likely to be of risk to you than the pet.
- There have been rare reports that cats and dogs can contract SARS-COV2 through close contact with their sick owners; again, there is no evidence that they transmit it back to humans.
- There is some potential that cats, if they become ill or share litterboxes, may transmit it to other cats. Again, we still believe this to be rare.
- The primary goals here are to provide ongoing humane care to the pet, minimize stress to pets and humans, and minimize possible cross contamination from the infected home to your home.
Providing care for a pet in the owner’s home
- Ensure that heating and cooling will remain on to provide a safe and comfortable temperature.
- If at all possible, you should avoid entering the home.
- For cats, simply slipping a few days’ worth of food/water/litter through the door from outside will likely be sufficient.
- For dogs who are easy to handle, food and water may be slipped through the door from outside. The dog can be leashed as he comes to the door for a walk a few times a day and then placed back in the home without entering.
- For fish, some reptiles and small mammals, care may not need to be feed as frequently, or could be provided a long-lasting food source, reducing the frequency of care visits.
- For some dogs and other pets, it may be simpler to take them home or to a boarding kennel.
- If you are planning to take the animal home with you, it is recommended to wait until at least 3 days have passed with no one living in the home,if possible; most of the virus present will have died during that time. If in-home care can be continued for 14 days (through the CDC recommended period for animals to be kept separate), or until the owner is able to resume care, that is ideal.
- Exposure to the virus can be mitigated by following the measures to prevent exposure.
Measures to prevent exposure
- For every visit use proper PPE: wear gloves, mask, and coveralls or additional piece(s) of clothing worn over your existing clothes that can be shed and placed in a bag to be washed once you leave the home. Shoe covers or another clean pair of shoes to put on before going home is advised.
- Sanitize doorknobs and other surfaces you’ll be contacting frequently with disinfectant wipes or sprays.
- After you leave the home and before you leave or contact your car, sanitize any items that you are taking with you (eg leash, food container, carrier). Remove your shoe covers or change your shoes. Carefully remove all PPE and place them in large plastic bags: one to be discarded and the other to be laundered or sanitized. Alternatively, if you are returning to the home, you can leave coveralls, extra shoes, and gloves at the entry to the home. Sanitize your hands frequently by hand washing or alcohol gel, including immediately following the removal of gloves.
- Though the risk from animals is negligible, it is still recommended to minimize close contact (snuggling, licking, etc.) for 14 days based on CDC recommendations to shelters.
Retrieving a pet from an owner’s home
- Check with the local health departments and/or your animal control agency for specific recommendations and potentially assistance in getting the animal. If at all possible, you should avoid entering the home.
- If the animal can be passed to you without contact through the use of a carrier or by securely tying the dog’s leash, this is the best means of taking the animal from someone else.
- If you must enter the home follow the guidance above to prevent exposure.
- Minimize time in the home and avoid contact with household items.
- Once outside, sanitize the surface of pet care supplies you are taking with you (leashes, bowls, food containers, etc.) using disinfecting wipes or sprays before removing your PPE. Place washable items belonging to the pet into the bag with your washable PPE.
Caring for an exposed pet in your home
- Although it is theoretically possible for the pet to be carrying some viral particles on their fur, the AVMA and CDC agree that fur is highly unlikely to be a means of spreading the virus. Furthermore, there is no evidence of transmission of SARS-CoV2 from pets to people. These overly cautious steps will further minimize any chance of cross-contamination and exposure to your household.
- Studies and extremely rare natural infections suggest dogs and cats are very very low risk to humans, if any. However, out of an abundance of caution the CDC recommends separating animals from COVID-positive homes from close contact with other pets and people for 14 days from the last point of contact with an infected person.
- A separate space in your home should be prepared before you bring the animal home. This should be an area that is easily disinfected and contains limited household items.
- Minimize interaction with multiple family members.
- Any carriers or other items that came with the animal should be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant or run through the laundry if applicable.
- It is good general practice at any time to wash your hands after contact with an animal or their food, waste, or bedding
- Do not bring items (other than medications and food in a closed container) from the home with you unless you can wash them immediately (beds, blankets, toys, even the leash).
- For cats, in addition to keeping them separate from other pets and people for 14 days, they should not share litterboxes with non-exposed cats during the separation period.
Utilize a boarding facility
If a boarding facility has agreed to take the animal the same recommendations as for shelters are advised: no bathing, but a 14 day hold during which walking and basic care can be performed but close contact is limited. These 14 days are recommended to cover the extremely unlikely case the dog or cat has become infected. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/interim-recommendations-intake-companion-animals-households-humans-COVID-19-are-present
Advice for all pet owners — Make a plan for your pets now.
- Identify a friend or family member who will care for your pet in the event you become sick or injured. Once they agree, provide them with written permission to enter your home and access to a key.
- Prepare a “go-bag” for your pet so that everything they need is in one convenient location. This will give the caretaker of your pet ample time to find more of your pet’s most important supplies. The “go-bag” should include everything your pet needs for at least two weeks including:
- Food in a closed and wipeable container with instructions and the specific brand indicated
- Medications with instructions
- Other supplies (eg DAP, litter, favorite treats, harness)
- A copy of medical records including recent vaccinations and veterinary contact information.