CDC, AVMA and University Shelter Medicine Program Recommendations for Intake, Housing, and Care of Animals from COVID-19 Households
On March 30, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in collaboration with several shelter medicine programs, published interim recommendations for shelter intake of companion animals from households where humans with COVID-19 are present (referred to here as the “Interim Recommendations”) [i] to help keep animals and people healthy during the COVID-19 crisis [ii].
Here, we provide a summary of key recommendations, along with practical tips for shelters to use these guidelines to implement practical protocols that best ensure animal and human health during the highly challenging circumstances of this global pandemic. Note that this information, like the recommendations, contains guidelines and not legal mandates. Therefore, shelters retain discretion to tailor their practices (consistent with controlling law) to take into account their own operational considerations.
There Is No Current Evidence of Companion Animals Spreading COVID-19
The Interim Recommendations make clear that there is no current evidence of companion animals spreading COVID-19 and that spread of the virus is the result of person-to-person transmission; therefore, whenever possible, it is preferable for companion animals to remain at home with their human families, which has the benefit of promoting both human and animal health and welfare, particularly in times of great upheaval. Keeping people and pets together also helps ensure that animal shelter resources are reserved to care for pets who truly have no other options. Additionally, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) notes that “there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare," which according to the Interim Recommendations includes “harming them or abandoning them based on unfounded fears over COVID-19.”
While the risks of COVID-19 transmission from contact with companion animals coming from homes affected by the virus are considered very low, it remains prudent for shelters to follow general infection prevention and control measures. It is also important to note that these recommendations will change as new information becomes available.
Shelters are well positioned to provide guidance to pet owners in their communities so they can plan ahead. Some key points to share include:
Urge pet owners to incorporate pets into their preparedness plans.
Individuals impacted by COVID-19 can and should keep their pets with them while they are in home quarantine, as recommended by CDC, WHO, AVMA, OIE, WSAVA and others;
They should have another member of the household provide care for animals, if possible; where that isn’t possible, they should limit close contact with their pets, wash their hands regularly and wear a facemask while caring for their animals.
In addition to stocking up on essential supplies such as pet food and medications, pet owners should make contingency plans with family, friends or neighbors, so that they have someone who can provide care for their pet if they are unable to do so -either in the owner’s home or by temporarily relocating the animal to the temporary caretaker’s home, a boarding kennel or veterinary office.
When it’s not possible for a pet to stay in the home and where other options have been exhausted, temporary relocation to a shelter may be necessary. The recommendations note that, where a companion animal has been in contact with a person known or suspected to have COVID-19, the greatest risk of exposure to staff, volunteers, and the public comes not from the animals but from person-to-person contact.
Practical Tips for Shelters
Shelters should actively adhere to social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations by shifting their schedules and operations. This includes:
Reducing or eliminating all non-essential shelter intake, prioritizing sheltering only for animals who are the victims of cruelty or neglect, are sick, injured or otherwise in immediate danger, or who pose a significant public safety risk.
Providing guidance/alternatives to the community concerning animals they would normally bring to the shelter (i.e. non-emergency owner surrender intake, healthy strays, and underage kittens).
Arranging for care or placement of shelter animals via foster care and/or adoptions, transfer to rescue groups or other community organizations, and continuing to offer return to owner programs in a way that adheres to social distancing recommendations and ensures safety of people and animals.
Contingency planning for reduced availability of staff and volunteers directly impacted by COVID-19 and/or proactively reducing staff and volunteers in the building to ensure adherence to social distancing recommendations.
This may include making adjustments to roles and responsibilities, implementing scheduling changes to extend or consolidate the regular workday in order to limit the number of people in the building, and/or staggering teams to avoid any overlap in the event that an individual becomes infected with COVID-19.
Postponing all non-urgent veterinary examinations, procedures, and surgeries, including routine spay/neuter, in order to conserve critical medical supplies and staffing resources.
Precautions in Removing Companion Animals from Homes with Known or Suspected COVID-19 Cases
To reduce the risk of person to person transmission, the recommendations point out that it’s important to avoid or reduce contact with the home, maintain a physical distance of six feet from other people, practice hand hygiene, and use personal protective equipment (“PPE”). Protocols specific to protecting staff in high risk situations, such as closely interacting with or entering an infected person’s home, should be consistent with the most current guidance from state and federal public health authorities. Animal welfare organizations should work closely with relevant officials to develop plans for removal of companion animals from impacted homes.
Safety During Exams and Treatment
The recommendations include wearing gloves and gowns or coveralls, handwashing, and routine cleaning and disinfection of the intake area and other materials. Bathing animals is not recommended because “at this time there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to people from the skin or fur of pets.”
Animal Housing Guidelines
CDC/AVMA recommends that companion animals who were in contact with a person known or suspected to have COVID-19 or from a known high-risk environment should be housed in an area of the shelter away from the rest of the population. Housing in double compartment enclosures with spot cleaning protocols is preferred. In addition, the recommendations suggest:
Where possible, separate staff should be designated to care for animals identified as having been exposed to COVID-19.
If not possible, enhanced hygiene protocols should be implemented for caregivers who handle these animals and handle other animals within the shelter.
A 14-day holding period for companion animals who need to be fostered or adopted “out of an abundance of caution.”
Prompt reunion of companion animals with their owners.
Practical Tips for Shelters: Exams, Treatment & Housing
Temporary or emergency housing should only be considered as a last resort and shelters are encouraged to support their community in identifying alternate arrangements that keep animals out of the shelter while also preserving human and animal health and welfare whenever possible.
Shelters should develop written SOPs that identify where and how they will provide care for animals entering the shelter from known or suspected COVID-19 positive homes. This should include a critical self-evaluation of the organization’s available resources and capacity (particularly in the availability of caregiving personnel) to safely and humanely care for pets under these circumstances, including:
Development of a process to receive, evaluate, and respond to requests for emergency housing assistance due to COVID-19 infection.
Identification of any intake criteria or restrictions around the animal’s health and/or behavior.
Creation of agreements covering key matters such as consent to treat, provision of emergency care, and rights and responsibilities of the owners and the shelter;
Implementation of a facility-use plan, including appropriate signage, that allows for housing of these animals separate from the rest of the animal population.
This should be a plan for segregated (not necessarily isolated) housing; animals from different homes with COVID-19 can be placed within the same room/area/location.
Note that the guidelines specify a holding period and do not call for a true quarantine. The 14-day holding period does not need to be restarted each time a new animal is introduced to the area.
Shelters should strive to ensure separation in animal care duties.
This could be achieved by dividing the animal care staff into 2 or more teams, with one (or more) teams designated to care for this population of animals and a different/separate team (or teams) designated to care for the other animals in the shelter.
Team designations may be helpful in further underscoring assignments – for example, the red team being assigned to care for exposed animals and the green team being assigned to care for the rest of the shelter population.
If shelters are unable to separate their staff, they can achieve separation through timing of duties and use of appropriate protective gear. Personnel should first care for animals in the general population, and then don the appropriate protective gear before moving on to care for the exposed population. COVID-19 exposed animals should be fed, watered, and spot cleaned AFTER the non-exposed animals.
House animals from known or suspected COVID-19 homes immediately adjacent or at least in close proximity to each other to make implementation of the recommendations above easier.
Where possible, provide animals with toys, Kongs and other sources of stimulation that can be easily sanitized or limited to use by a single animal.
Following up regularly with the owner or appointed representative to continually assess the need for ongoing sheltering, with an aim to support the owner in taking their pet back as soon as possible.
The greatest risk of exposure to staff, volunteers, and the public comes not from the animals but from person-to-person contact.
Animal Handling Safeguards
For animals who were in contact with COVID-19, the CDC/AVMA recommends:
Routine use of basic PPE including gloves, gowns or coveralls, booties or dedicated footwear, and gloves.
Walking dogs outside for elimination and exercise, ideally in an area separate from the general animal population and that can be readily cleaned and disinfected:
Avoidance of direct contact with other companion animals.
Immediate removal and disposal of waste.
Practical Tips for Shelters: Animal Handling
Identify availability of and access to PPE and protective garments and, where possible, forecast such use with the estimated population of animals for which it will be needed;
Ensure access to gloves as well as hand hygiene supplies and facilities (i.e. sink, soap and paper towels or hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol);
Because of current shortages in commercially available PPE, gowns or coveralls that can be laundered, and dedicated footwear is preferred to the use of disposable items.
Dedicated footwear may include plastic or vinyl “barn boots” that can be easily stepped in and out of and be adequately cleaned and disinfected.
Recognizing that even reusable PPE, such as surgical gowns, may be limited in availability due to supply chain issues and a critical need in human healthcare settings, shelters may need or want to consider enlisting volunteers and/or staff in making reusable gowns for this purpose.
The University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program has collated a list of PPE alternatives that shelters can consider.
At a minimum, when outer garments are not available, staff should have at least 2 sets of uniforms/clothing to allow for a complete change after working with the population of exposed animals.
Determine walking paths/elimination areas for exposed dogs, separate from those used by the general population when possible, and adjust protocols to ensure prompt removal of waste and disinfection of surfaces.
Appropriate use of double-sided enclosures and spot cleaning should be incorporated and can help lessen the need for multiple changes in PPE throughout the day.
Cleaning & Disinfection
CDC/AVMA recommends routine cleaning and disinfection, and notes that normal protocols for animal housing and common areas are sufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, increased sanitation of frequently touched surfaces to reduce person-to-person transmission is recommended.
Practical Tips for Shelters: Cleaning & Disinfection
For shelters finding that there is limited availability of their regular cleaning agents and disinfectants, it may be helpful to revise existing protocols in order to conserve key products (i.e. accelerated hydrogen peroxide products) for subpopulations and priority areas of the shelter.
Routine Testing of Animals for COVID-19 is Not Recommended
Routine testing of companion animals for COVID-19 is not recommended at this time. CDC/ AVMA recommends that shelter staff and/or the supervising veterinarian work with the appropriate public health and animal health officials to determine whether testing is necessary for a companion animal who has had close contact with a COVID-19 affected individual and has developed a new, concerning illness that can’t otherwise be explained .
Practical Tips for Shelters: Routine Testing
No routine testing of animals for COVID-19.
There have been no reports of companion animals developing clinical signs attributed to COVID-19 infection in the United States.
Shelters should have procedures in place to ensure timely recognition and response to any animal health concerns. This includes ensuring that:
Rounds are conducted at least once every 24 hours by a trained individual in order to visually observe the health and well-being of every animal;
Monitoring procedures are in place to allow for early detection of problems and prompt intervention of individual animals and the population as whole;
Timely and appropriate assessment and follow-up by trained staff and veterinarians is available.
Recommendations can and will change as new information becomes available. It is important to routinely monitor for new developments and changes in recommendations so that your organization’s practices and protocols remain as current as possible in order to safeguard human and animal health and welfare. At a minimum, you should regularly visit the websites of the CDC, AVMA, and WSAVA and routinely assess your organization’s capacity for care.
Note that this information, like the recommendations, contains guidelines and not legal mandates. Therefore, shelters retain discretion to tailor their practices (consistent with controlling law) to take into account their own operational considerations.
[i] The Interim Recommendations were developed by The American Veterinary Medical Association, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, The Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the University of California-Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 One Health Team (collectively, “AVMA”). The Interim Recommendations are available in full here.