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Note: The scientific name of this novel coronavirus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In people, the disease caused by the virus is called Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. In the context of animal health, the disease is referred to as SARS-CoV-2.

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking. Currently, there is no evidence that pets play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the virus, and the role animals may play in the spread of COVID-19.

Below is a summary of our guidance. For the full guidance document, please email Beth Lipton, Public Health Veterinarian, at Beth.Lipton@kingcounty.gov.

Pet owners

Pet owners should treat their pets as they would any other human family member and practice social distancing with other people and animals outside the household. Keep cats indoors and walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.

If a pet owner is sick with COVID-19, the CDC recommends that they restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as they would with other people. If an owner must care for the pet while sick, they should wear a cloth face covering and wash their hands before and after interacting with the pet. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are permitted to remain with their handlers.

General considerations for veterinary facilities

Veterinary staff should follow public health guidance for essential workers, including staying home when sick and implementing flexible sick leave policies. Additional precautions should be implemented to protect staff and visitors in the workplace. Ask everyone to wear a cloth face covering and provide each staff member with their own workspace and equipment. 

Veterinary facilities should postpone elective procedures, surgeries, and non-urgent veterinary visits and should make a plan to support sick and injured pets through measures such as telemedicine, curbside services, and online payment/billing. The AVMA has a resource for Minimizing COVID-19 Exposure.

Veterinary care for a pet living in a household where a person has suspected or confirmed COVID-19

Pet owners who have COVID-19-like symptoms or is a suspected or confirmed case should not visit the veterinary facility and instead ask a family member or friend from outside the household to bring the animal to the veterinary facility. If a pet owner is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 and must bring their pet to the clinic, actions must be taken that maintain physical distance and prevent the owner from having to enter the facility. Specific CDC recommendations for situations in which an ill pet owner must enter the facility or a house call veterinarian is needed are available.

Pets infected with SARS-CoV-2 and testing for SARS-CoV-2

The understanding of SARS-CoV-2 disease in animals is limited, though clinical signs of disease in mammals are expected to include: fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, nasal/ocular discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Routine testing of pets for SARS-CoV-2 is currently not recommended. Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out other, more common cause of illness before considering testing for SARS-CoV-2, especially among pets without a COVID-19 exposure. If a pet does test positive, follow CDC guidance for both home and veterinary facility isolations recommendations.

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