Page last updated: 03-27-2020

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 either contracting or 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 have been no reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in the U.S. COVID-19 is not known to affect pets or livestock, nor is there evidence they can spread the virus to people or other pets.

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.

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.

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.

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 other animals 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

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

Companion animals

According to the CDC, no animals in the U.S. have been identified with the virus. There is currently no evidence dogs or other pets can spread COVID-19. 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.

In late February a pet dog in Hong Kong tested “weak positive” for the causative agent of COVID-19. Its owner had positive results for COVID-19. In early March the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department reported a second test on the dog had also come back positive. The report also indicated another dog quarantined in the home with the COVID-19 positive owner has tested negative for the virus.

On March 12, Hong Kong announced that a blood test on the dog was negative. A blood sample was taken for a serological test, which resulted in a negative result. A negative indicates there is not a strong immune response and that there are currently not measurable amounts of antibodies in the blood. The dog will continue to be quarantined and monitored and has not shown any signs of the disease.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the precise meaning of the positive test result from the one dog remains unclear and further evaluation is ongoing. Hong Kong officials said that dog continues to show no clinical signs of illness, remains under quarantine and is being cared for, and will continue to be monitored and tested.

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.

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.