As predicted, COVID-19 is spreading throughout the United States and globally.  State and Federal governmental agencies have implemented emergency response plans for highly contagious diseases, and businesses of all kinds are working to protect their employees and customers while maintaining business continuity if the coronavirus continues to spread.

Today, as we prepare for a new reality, albeit temporary, veterinary practices where animals in need of critical and preventive care should continue to be properly cared for by highly skilled, dedicated professionals.  As we hear that a pet may have tested positive for the virus in China, it is likely that companion animal practices may see an upsurge in demand from concerned pet owners, even though the CDC reports that, “[a]t this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can be infected with or spread COVID-19.”  (COVID-19 is the strain of coronavirus spreading now).

Veterinarians should consider the following issues as human cases of COVID-19 continues to spread:

  1. Staff should be provided with a plan to minimize exposure from infected staff members or clients, including providing curbside services and admissions limited to emergency cases.
  2. Staff should be asked to stay home if exhibiting symptoms of infection.
  3. Plans to function with a reduced staff should be considered. If schools are closed, daycare may become an issue for staff members.
  4. Inventory medications and supplies that may become more difficult to purchase, depending on the manufacturer and/or distributor.
  5. Obtain sampling and testing equipment that may be needed to respond to requests from owners concerned about their pets. If demand for human testing makes this impossible, provide clients with information from CDC and other animal health officials about the low likelihood of the spread of this virus between pets and people.

Here are some facts about potential reverse zoonosis to keep in mind.  (Zoonosis is the spread of disease from animals to humans; reverse zoonosis is the spread from people to animals).

  1. Like other viruses, dogs and other animals in close contact with infected people, may be exposed to and inhale the virus, but may not become infected. A test that simply identifies a virus on a swab does not mean that the animal was infected, particularly in the absence of clinical signs of disease, assuming that the diagnostic test is approved for use in animals, and was performed in a competent, accredited laboratory.
  2. Dogs can be infected with a respiratory form of coronavirus, but, historically, it was different from the human form of the virus. They can also be infected with an enteric form that causes diarrhea. Veterinary diagnostic laboratories can test for coronavirus in dogs.
  3. Practice good hygiene around your pet (and everywhere else). The CDC has comprehensive guidance about “staying safe and healthy around animals, including pets.”

The AVMA has been advocating to address potential mandatory closures of veterinary practices along with other facilities where the public may co-mingle, and has published a COVID-19 resources website.

Planning for emergencies and disasters should be one of many management tools in veterinary practices.  Veterinarians are trained to deal with infectious, contagious diseases and are well-equipped to help manage this current outbreak.  As a former animal health official in New Jersey (the State Veterinarian) part of my responsibility was to protect the livestock, poultry and aquaculture in the state from the spread of highly contagious diseases, draft and implement emergency response plans in coordination with other state, local and federal agencies and with all stakeholders and impacted businesses.  New Jersey is no stranger to disaster and emergency response, having responded to the most devastating terrorist attack on our country, the anthrax attacks, Hurricane Floyd and Super Storm Sandy.  As before, using the tools and resources described herein, we are armed to survive the COVID-19 storm.