Tips and resources for pet owners across America during COVID-19

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April 21, 2020
Ev. Safronov // Shutterstock

Tips and resources for pet owners across America during COVID-19

COVID-19 is just one strain in a large family of viruses known collectively as the coronaviruses. According to the CDC, some strains affect people, others affect animals. In rare cases, some strains can be transmitted from animals to people and vice versa. In almost all cases, however, the current crisis is driven by person-to-person transmission—but it’s a frightening and confusing time for pet owners and animal lovers everywhere.

COVID-19 is believed to have originated in a live-animal market in China, and at least one zoo animal—a tiger in New York City—acquired a respiratory illness believed to be coronavirus. There’s no evidence, however, that companion animals and pets can spread COVID-19, but it can live on surfaces like leashes, collars, and even on the bodies of pets themselves.

Recently, however, news came out of Hong Kong that a dog had tested “weak positive” for COVID-19, although it’s likely the virus was simply living on the dog’s body and traces were picked up by the test. Even so, the event sparked a blizzard of panic, false presumptions, and misinformation about the role of pets in the crisis.

This article attempts to clarify some of that misinformation, separate facts from internet-driven myths, and give animal lovers and pet owners information, ideas, and outside assistance that can help them weather the crisis safely and happily with their furry friends.

Stacker compiled a list of tips and resources from multiple authoritative sources to help with animal care during COVID-19. It’s important to note that much is still unknown about the virus, new evidence emerges daily, and information can change quickly. The following information is based on current data and advice presented by leading experts and organizations in the field. It should be taken seriously, but it’s up to the reader to stay current with emerging information as new data comes to light.

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Wash your hands

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the standard advice for avoiding human-to-human transmission holds true for pets as well: thorough and frequent handwashing. Washing hands can also prevent pet-to-human transmission of bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.

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Have activities planned out

Just like homebound children, pets need activities to keep them occupied, engaged, and active. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has developed a list of fun, engaging, and healthy programs for dogs and their humans to do at home. Visit their site to learn more about the AKC’s FitDog program, for advice on how to train your dog, or even to upload your own videos to the AKC’s Trick Dog program.

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Stock up on supplies

Now and always, it’s important to keep a two-week supply of food for your pets, according to the ASPCA. Your pet emergency kit should also contain 30 days worth of any medicines they take.

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Apion // Shutterstock

Designate an emergency caregiver

The ASPCA also reminds people to name a caregiver to take custody of their pets in case the owner can’t care for them in a short-term or long-term emergency. Whether it’s a family member or a trusted neighbor, this, like stocking up on supplies, is important even in normal times.

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YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV // Shutterstock

Create a pet dossier

Despite their good intentions, pet owners shouldn’t assume their emergency caregivers will know what to do, how to do it, and when. The ASPCA recommends creating a dossier, which is a fancy word for instructions that makes things easier for the person tasked with this incredible responsibility. It should include the primary veterinarian’s contact information and things like the pets’ preferences, habits, allergies, feeding schedules, medicine schedules, walk schedules, and behavioral tendencies.

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Sponsor a sanctuary animal

For people who love animals but don’t have pets, or do but can’t bear to think of homeless animals going without, a fairly small sanctuary donation can go a long way. With a $25 donation to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, for example, you can “adopt” a bird, goat, pig, horse, cat, or dog. It’s part of the Best Friends Animal Society/Help Them All network, which includes nearly 3,000 partners that animal lovers can support in their local areas.

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Continue to walk your dog if it’s safe/allowed where you live

Walking a dog is good for both person and pet, and it’s an activity you can and should continue in most cases, according to the AKC—but with an extra cautious focus on safety. Avoid crowded areas, wash your hands thoroughly before and after, maintain social distancing, stay up to date with local changes, and abide by all local curfews and ordinances.

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Cancel your dog walker (but pay them if you can)

The coronavirus can live on surfaces like leashes, collars, and even dogs, according to Health.com, which means that dog walkers can transfer it to pet owners indirectly. Experts recommended people put dog-walking services on pause, but since gig workers are among the hardest hit by the economic shutdown, it would certainly be a welcome gesture to keep paying them for those who have the means.

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Get your pet, and you, to safety from domestic violence

The coronavirus lockdown has led to a startling and worldwide rise in domestic violence, according to New York Times reporting. Organizations like RedRover provide safe escape grants that victims can use to get themselves, their families, and their pets to safety.

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Invest in basic at-home grooming supplies

Just as it’s important to keep emergency stores of food and medicine for pets on hand, the lockdown is long and sprawling enough to justify investing in the tools and knowledge that people need to groom their own pets. You can learn how to groom correctly simply by watching breed-specific instructional videos on YouTube, but you’ll likely need to buy some equipment, as well. New York Magazine recently published a list of 25 highly rated grooming tools, which is a good place to start searching.

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Schedule a telehealth visit

Since most people are forced to skip regular vet appointments, they might consider a remote checkup through a telehealth visit. Anyone interested should check with their local vet about remote services or check out the TeleVet app, which lets people communicate with their vets through text, talk, and video.

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Don't let other people pet your animals

As previously stated, the coronavirus can live on collars, leashes, and even dogs themselves—but that rule doesn’t apply only to dog walkers by any means. Experts advise people to prevent those outside the household—even friends and family—from petting their animals.

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Get a grant for emergency pet care

The same organization that provides assistance for domestic violence victims and their pets also offers aid to those in need of emergency veterinary care. Those who need it but wonder how they’ll pay during the current crisis might be able to benefit from a RedRover Relief Urgent Care grant.

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Wayne Silver // Flickr

Stick to a schedule

Although curfews and other restrictions might force some changes, experts recommend that pet owners do everything possible to keep their animals on their regular schedules. For both the physical and mental health of pets, it’s best to walk them, feed them, bathe them, and give them their medicine at the same time of day as before the shutdown.

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Make a preparedness plan

In conjunction with establishing an emergency caregiver, stores of food and medicine, and a written dossier, the Humane Society recommends establishing a preparedness plan. In case someone in a household gets sick, must be hospitalized, or otherwise can’t care for a pet, a plan of action will keep pet owners from scrambling to make preparations at the last minute during already stressful times.

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Pursue emergency boarding grants for your pet if you're hospitalized

Help is available to those who can’t find a willing and capable emergency caretaker. The RedRover Relief Emergency Boarding Grants program provides funding for those who need a safe, secure place to house their pets in case of an emergency.

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Make your own treats

With money tight, trips to the store dangerous, and supplies running short, now is the perfect time for pet owners to learn the life lesson of making homemade dog treats—it’s a skill that will come in handy long after the crisis passes. The AKC offers tips, tricks, and suggestions to get pet owners started with at-home treat-making.

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Mark Buckawicki // Wikimedia Commons

Get help for basic care costs

Owning a pet is a financial commitment—one that many people are having a hard time coping with now that they’re not sure how they’re going to pay their own expenses. RedRover maintains a list of resources that pet owners can turn to for assistance with basic pet care, including food, transportation, and temporary fostering.

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If you're facing foreclosure, find emergency aid

For those facing foreclosure in the current crisis, organizations like LostOurHome Pet Rescue offer assistance to pet owners grappling with housing insecurity. They help to feed tens of thousands of hungry pets, find loving homes for thousands more, and reunite even more with their families once the crisis has passed.

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Take extra care with any products you bring home

There is a great deal to be learned about the coronavirus, but experts are certain that it can live on surfaces for extended periods of time, depending on the surface and many other variable conditions. Whether it’s from shopping or delivery, pet owners should follow CDC guidelines on disinfecting things brought into the house like food bags, treat boxes, toys, and all the other things they give their pets, just as they would food and supplies brought in for themselves.

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Get a ride for petcare services

RedRover also maintains a list of organizations dedicated to helping people pay for necessary transportation services for their pets. This includes basic transportation needs as well as help for uniting military dogs with their owners or handlers.

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Take special care for exotic or unusual pets

Find area vets who do home deliveries for pets like pigs, alpaca, or exotic birds (anything not a dog or cat).

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Reconsider pet insurance

Although most people are looking to trim budgets and eliminate unnecessary monthly bills, you might save money in the long run by investing in pet insurance. If you can manage the monthly payments, pet insurance premiums are significantly cheaper than surprise visits to the animal hospital. Consumer Advocate breaks down its top choices for the best policies of 2020.

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Seek financial support for pet food expenses

For those struggling the most, just feeding a beloved pet might be a financial challenge. Organizations like Love Your Pet Expo maintain databases filled with links to pet-food banks across the country that can help those in need.

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Potty train your pet

For urban dogs or others who quickly went from multiple walks a day to one or none, the lockdown presents an especially pressing problem. The New York Times interviewed an expert who describes how to successfully “potty train” dogs by unteaching them everything their owners previously taught them about not relieving themselves indoors. It might be a necessary step to take in situations where multiple daily walks are simply not manageable.

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Separate fact from fiction with COVID-19 and your pets

No, people can’t get coronavirus from their cats and no, there isn’t a canine vaccine. One of the best things you can do for your pets is to educate yourself with reliable information and dispel the many myths that have sprung up during the crisis. Poynter maintains a massive fact-check database for coronavirus misinformation that can help pet owners get their facts straight.

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Pursue 'care credits' if you can pay a vet bill up front

Some lenders have designed credit cards specifically to help people pay for medical needs—sometimes including vet care—that come with special financing that allows users to make payments over time with little or no interest fees. Among the best known are CareCredit, which recently absorbed the similar Citi Health Card, and Wells Fargo Health Advantage.

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Take precautions if you're sick at home

As previously discussed, those infected with the coronavirus can transfer it to other people via their pets. Those who are sick at home should not allow other family members to pet their animals or have any contact with them after the infected person has handled the animals.

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If you're stuck, look into temporary foster-care help

For those who are no longer able to care for their pets because they’re sick, because they’re caring for loved ones who are sick, or because of financial hardship, might consider temporary fostering as a last resort. Organizations like PACT for Animals offer assistance with finding beloved pets safe, loving, temporary homes.

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Support your local shelters to help more animals near you

During times of crisis, it’s not only humans who suffer. As the coronavirus and its related economic shutdown squeeze pet owners tighter and tighter, local shelters need hard-to-come-by donations now more than ever. You can use databases like ShelterAnimalsCount to find a local shelter in your area that you can offer your support.

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