As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow in the United States, many pet owners are likely worried about what will happen to their animal companions if they fall seriously ill or need hospitalization. While it can be stressful to think about these situations, experts say planning ahead is key to ensuring the best possible outcome for your beloved pets.
Even if you already have general emergency preparations in place, the unique circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic mean there are new factors to consider when planning.
“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness that your normal plans may not be feasible right now,” Anne Levin, director of Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition, told HuffPost.
Stock Up On Pet Food, Medicine And Supplies
Illness or the need to self-quarantine may leave you unable to leave your home for a period of time. Have at least two weeks’ worth of food for your pets on hand, as well as 30 days’ worth of any medications they take, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends. Don’t forget about other items you might need, like cat litter or bedding for small pets.
Choose An Emergency Caregiver — And Try To Pick Someone Local
Even in normal times, you should have someone you can count on to care for your pets if you or other members of your household can’t do so in an emergency situation. But if that person lives far away, it may be difficult at the time being for them to get to your pet, since traveling during the coronavirus pandemic can be dangerous or logistically tricky, Levin said.
For that reason, if your regular emergency plan involves friends or relatives who live far away, it’s best to have a local backup.
Make Sure Your Caregiver Is Prepared
Make sure your emergency caregiver has a key to your home. It’s also a good idea to keep supplies they’ll need for your pet ― food, medications, toys, a leash or carrier ― close to the door or together in an easily accessible area. As Levin noted, if you have a case of COVID-19, your emergency caregiver will likely want to avoid having to poke around your home searching for necessary supplies.
You also want to make sure they’re prepared, information-wise. The ASPCA recommends creating a “pet dossier” ahead of time, including notes on food, medical conditions, behavioral tendencies and habits, vaccination records and veterinarian contact information. It can’t hurt to leave another copy of this information near the door or your pet’s supplies.
Take Hygiene Precautions
As of now, there’s no evidence pets can get sick from COVID-19 and there have been no recorded cases of pets transmitting the virus to humans. However, out of an abundance of caution, there are steps the Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend to protect the health of both people and pets.
If you are sick with COVID-19, ideally another person in your household would care for your pet. If that’s not possible, wash your hands before and after interacting with pets, wear a face mask if possible and regularly wash an animal’s bowls, bedding material and toys.
It’s not totally clear how long the virus can survive on an animal’s fur (for instance, if an infected person coughed on the pet), though the AVMA notes that generally, smooth surfaces like plastics or metal transmit viruses better than porous, fibrous substances like fur. Some experts suggest that those concerned about exposure should bathe pets with species-appropriate shampoo, or wipe down the animal’s fur with a soapy cloth and water. (Note that for some species, like rabbits, immersion in water can be dangerous.)
What About Foster Pets?
Many people now spending more time at home have stepped up to help animals in their community by fostering pets for local shelters and rescue groups. When you’re fostering pets ― meaning giving them a temporary place to live while they’re still up for adoption ― the shelter or rescue group is still ultimately responsible for the animals. That means communication is key.
“If you think you’re sick, you should let your rescue group know so they can start planning,” Levin said. That way, they can begin working with you as soon as possible to figure out the best course of action for your foster pets.
It’s also useful to keep regular health notes on your foster pet to have handy in case issues arise, Tina Reddington, director of the ASPCA’s Los Angeles volunteer and foster programs, noted in an email. She additionally stressed the importance of communication, especially during such an uncertain time.
“While your foster program may be increasingly busy during this time, we encourage you to proactively reach out to your foster program about your foster pet’s overall status, whether you need more supplies, or if you foresee the last date you can keep your foster pets in your home,” she said.