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COVID-19 guidance for veterinarians

Veterinary practices are "essential businesses." They provide for animal health, support public health policy (60% of animal pathogens are zoonotic), and provide many other important services in the community. Veterinary staff provide care for ill and injured animals, ensure livestock and food producing animals are healthy, and provide support in disaster situations.

Although the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is a human pathogen that is spreading from person to person. Currently there is no evidence that livestock or companion animals, including pets, can spread the virus that causes COVID-19. Community transmission from person-to person of the new virus in the United States is being documented in several states, it is possible that many people, including clients and/or staff, may become ill.

Steps Veterinarians Should Take Now

  • Create education materials for clients that illustrate the differences between the coronaviruses that affect domestic animals and livestock, for which vaccines have been developed, and this novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Although these are all classified as coronaviruses, there are differences between the viruses with much to learn about the new virus. Stress that the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no evidence that domestic animals or livestock can become infected and sick or spread the virus causing COVID -19.
  • Laboratory tests for the virus causing COVID-19 in animals are being developed and advertised now (IDEXX Laboratories). There have been 3 cases that have detected an infection in animals, but no scientific evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of this virus. There are no Federal or State recommendations to test pets for virus causing COVID-19 at this time.
  • Veterinary clinics should be aware of the guidelines regarding the limits on statewide gatherings (e.g., 10 people) and that these could apply to activity at the clinic. Check with local officials for clarification.
  • Consider making arrangements to have clients call you from their car upon arrival, and have someone from your practice pick up the animal outside so the client does not have to come inside the practice. Use telemedicine options and discuss care measures via cell phone.
  • Limit the number of employee visitors (family, friends, and pets) to the business to decrease the number of people coming into the clinic.
  • Contact this office or state public health epidemiologist, Dr. Louisa Castrodale, if you are notified about a pet showing signs of illness that has had close contact with a person infected with the virus causing COVID-19.
  • If a client has a pet with an urgent need for veterinary attention and the client has been diagnosed as a confirmed or presumptive positive for the virus causing COVID-19, or is sick and isolated at home, or asymptomatic but under in-house quarantine, please consider how you might arrange for the pet to receive an evaluation. It is recommended that a family member or friend pick up the pet in a pet carrier if the owner cannot leave the home.
  • Any person diagnosed with the virus causing COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If the ill individual must care for the pet, they should wash their hands before and after interacting with the pet and wear a facemask if one is available.
  • Interim Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Veterinary Clinics Treating Companion Animals During the COVID-19 Response

Pets tested for the virus causing COVID-19

The dogs tested in Hong Kong should no signs of illness and were tested using a real time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which test for the presence of a portion of the viral RNA.  These tests are sensitive, specific, and not cross-reactive with other coronaviruses of dogs and cats. The test cannot distinguish whether samples contain intact viruses, which are infectious, or only fragments of RNA. The initial serologic tests run on the dogs showed no sign of any immune response to the virus but re-testing the dogs did show a positive response.

On 3/27/20 it was reported that a cat in Belgium did develop transient signs of gastrointestinal and respiratory illness and tested positive for the virus causing COVID-19.  The owner had been diagnosed with the virus a week prior to the cat showing any symptoms.   Studies will need to be done to determine if a pet once infected will be capable of shedding sufficient amount of virus to infect other animals or humans.  

Recommendations should continue to stress a precautionary approach in quarantining pets from households with confirmed COVID-19 human cases.  In addition pet owners should follow good hygiene practices (including handwashing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing them) and to maintain a clean and hygienic household environment. People who are sick should restrict contacting animals. If there are any changes in the health condition of the pets, advice from a veterinarian should be sought as soon as possible.   Refer to CDC guidance on managing home care for people with COVID-19 who own pets or other animals.

Set up a Clinic COVID-19 Protocol

Consider making arrangements to have clients call you from their car upon arrival, and have someone from your practice pick up the animal outside so the client does not have to come inside the practice. AVMA has developed a decision tree to help with setting up a protocol to maintain social distancing with clients.

Use telemedicine options and discuss care measures via cell phone

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s is providing flexibility across FDA-regulated industries, the agency announced today that it intends to temporarily not enforce certain requirements in order to allow veterinarians to better utilize telemedicine to address animal health needs during the pandemic. The FDA will not enforce the animal examination and premises visit portion of the VCPR requirements relevant to the FDA regulations governing Extralabel Drug Use in Animals and Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) drugs. This will allow veterinarians to prescribe drugs in an extra label manner or authorize the use of VFD drugs without direct examination of or making visits to their patients, which will limit human-to-human interaction and potential spread of COVID-19 in the community.  Enforcement policy regarding federal VCPR requirements

Standard Hygiene Protocols

To avoid exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 follow strict handwashing and hygiene protocols outlined by the CDC and State Public Health Officials:

  • Designate your practice/workplace as a temporary NO HANDSHAKE ZONE and put up signage as a reminder for staff.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds -- after using the restroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and between client/patient visits.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Place hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and tissues at the front desk, in all exam rooms, restrooms, break rooms, and in the waiting room or lobby.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth, then throw the tissue into the trash can and wash your hands.

Perform routine environmental cleaning

  • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
  • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
  • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.

Employee Guidelines

  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessmentof their potential exposure.
  • Commit to voluntary home isolation (stay at home) if you have symptoms of respiratory disease (fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue). If you or any of your staff become ill while at work, make arrangements to go home immediately.
    • The CDC recommends that you remain at home until at least 72 hours after you are free of fever (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medications (e.g. cough suppressants).
  • Take steps to prevent the spread of disease among veterinary personnel and to/from clients by following guidelines and procedures laid out in the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarian’s (NASPHV) Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel . While the primary focus of this resource is controlling the spread of pathogens between animals and veterinary personnel, many of its principles apply to infection control in general, and following it is simply good practice.

Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps

  • Check the CDC Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found on the CDC website.
  • Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
  • Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
  • If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.

FAQs on Testing Animals

Although there have been a few cases of pets being infected with the virus causing COVID-19, there is no evidence that pets have transmitted the virus causing COVID19 to owners or other animals.   Both personal protective equipment and testing supplies for the virus causing COVID19 are becoming limited for human testing. Some of these same PPE and testing supplies may also have to be used for animal testing for COVID19.

Therefore, testing of animals will be under only limited circumstances and require approval from the State Veterinarian, State Public Health Veterinarian and USDA Veterinary Services.  Animals may be considered for COVID-19 testing only if they have been in a household with a confirmed infection, displayed symptoms consistent with the virus causing COVID19, including respiratory and/or gastrointestinal symptoms, and have tested negative for other pathogens common for that species.

Diagnostic labs can only report a presumptive result which will be reported only to the State Health Officials and the USDA.   All non-negative results from a diagnostic laboratory will be confirmed at National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL).  Only the result from NVSL will be released to the veterinary clinician and the owner. 

There is no specific approved treatment for COVID19, so a diagnosis of COVID19 would not mean an animal can be treated.  There is no evidence that pets have transmitted COVID19 to owners.

Regarding insect transmission of COVID-19

To date there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks.

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control (Animals)

National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV)

World Health Organization (WHO)

American Veterinary Medical Association

World Small Animal Veterinary Association

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA)

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

World Health Organization (WHO)

Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Preparedness, Response and Recovery (ZAHP) Fusion Center (Exotics)

Equine Disease Communication Center

Humane Society

Environmental Protection Agency

Food and Drug Administration

National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) and National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC)

Caring for Animals Exposed to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Food Safety for Farms and Food Processors

Meat & Poultry


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