Page last updated: 05-21-2020

Overview of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a coronavirus, which is a large family of viruses. COVID-19 was first identified in the Wuhan province of China in late 2019 and early 2020. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and international health experts, pets and other domestic animals are not considered to be at risk for spreading COVID-19.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some affecting animals and some affecting people. Most livestock producers and veterinarians are very familiar with common animal coronaviruses like Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, which impacts pigs. The majority of coronaviruses stick to their own species. COVID-19 has not been proven to circulate between people and animals.

There is a very specific molecular structure of coronaviruses to make each compatible with the specific species they infect. All species have different cellular structures and react differently to each virus. While one species can be infected, another could pass the virus through its body without any effects. This explains why different coronavirus strains affect specific species and body systems.

Veterinarians

COVID-19 is a global human-health concern at this time. Veterinarians’ first priority should be taking the routine precautions advised by the CDC to limit human-to-human transmission. There’s no evidence pets or livestock can spread the virus to people.

Follow standard cleaning and disinfection protocols for exam rooms and the facility. These protocols will kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Be sure to follow the correct contact time and dilution instructions for the products you use. Focus additional disinfection on high contact and high touch surfaces such as phones, doorknobs, keyboards, and equipment.

Veterinarians should consider these actions at their facilities:

  • Curbside medicine: the building is closed to clients who remain in their cars while pets are taken in and out by staff, and discussions about care are conducted over the phone.
  • Consider telemedicine appointments for established clients with valid veterinarian-client-patient-relationships, when medically appropriate.
  • Using temporary measures to mark out 6 foot distances to follow CDC guidelines on How to Protect Yourself in the lobby or exam rooms.

Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-17 on March 23, 2020 clarifying non-essential veterinary surgeries and procedures should be postponed until further notice.

The Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine issued an advisory for veterinarians, which details how veterinarians should handle elective procedures and how they should proceed with the veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR)

Telemedicine for veterinarians

The Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine extended the VCPR requirement to 18 months, which gives veterinarians the flexibility to help reduce human to human interaction to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Veterinarians should contact either the Board of Veterinary Medicine or Board of Animal Health for clarification if there are any questions about examining patients remotely and completing required documentation. Despite the additional challenges of examining animals remotely, certificates of veterinary inspection are necessary to certify the movement of healthy animals.

The Food and Drug Administration also temporarily suspended enforcement of portions of the federal VCPR requirements relevant to certain FDA regulations. The FDA, generally, does not intend to 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 allows veterinarians to prescribe drugs in an extralabel manner or authorize the use of VFD drugs without direct examination of their patients, which will limit human-to-human interaction and potential spread of COVID-19 in the community.

In some instances telemedicine is not a substitute for medically required procedures, and veterinarians should use their best judgement about when it is necessary to physically examine an animal.

If clients have human health questions they can call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.

Testing animals for COVID-19

At this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended. Officials at the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and Minnesota Department of Health will take the lead in making determinations about whether animals should be tested for SARS-CoV-2.

  • Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out other, more common causes of illness in animals before considering SARS-CoV-2 testing.
  • While additional animals may test positive as infections continue in people, it is important to note that performing this animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans.

Prevention

The CDC says the best way to prevent COVID-19 and other viruses from spreading is by following everyday preventative behaviors. Follow these three simple steps to reduce risk of transmission:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. Here’s a helpful CDC handwashing guide.
  2. Stay home when sick.
  3. Cover coughs and sneezes.

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Biosecurity

All livestock producers have standard biosecurity procedures in place for the day-to-day operation of their farm. Although there have not been reports of pets or livestock becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.

Livestock movements and resources

There are currently no movement restrictions on livestock in the U.S. related to COVID-19.

Livestock producers can review emergency carcass disposal resources on our website.

The University of Minnesota Extension has developed resources for swine producers facing the difficult question of what to do if their pork packing plant has closed.

Companion animals

There is currently no evidence dogs, cats or other pets can spread COVID-19 to people. However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals. Anyone confirmed with COVID-19, as with any illness, should restrict contact with their pets and other animals while ill. Learn how you can protect the health of your pets and yourself on the CDC’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People website.

As always, animal owners should continue to include pets and other animals in their emergency preparedness planning, including keeping a two-week supply of food and medications on hand.

If you are healthy and your pet needs to see a veterinarian, please call before bringing them in to the vet. Veterinary clinics are taking precautions and may have a special operating procedure that you will be asked to follow.

If you are ill with COVID-19 and your animal needs emergency care, ask a healthy family member or friend bring your animal in to be seen.

Cats and Dogs in the U.S.

Public health officials are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, and there is no evidence pets play a role in spreading the virus.

Until more is known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

Travel information

The CDC does not have any evidence to suggest animals or animal products imported from other states or countries pose a risk for spreading COVID-19 in the U.S. As always, animals imported from outside the U.S. need to meet CDC and USDA requirements for entering the country. As with any animal introduced to a new environment, animals recently imported should be observed daily for signs of illness. If an animal becomes ill, the animal should be examined by a veterinarian. Call your local veterinary clinic before bringing the animal into the clinic and let them know that the animal was recently in a region with known COVID-19 infections.

The CDC, USDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cooperate to regulate animals and animal products imported into the U.S. The CDC regulates animals and animal products that pose a threat to human health, USDA regulates animals and animal products that pose a threat to agriculture, and CBP patrols and inspects entry points for animals and animal products.

The CDC does have import requirements for rabies vaccination applying to dogs imported from countries considered high-risk for rabies.