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The extensive guidance, which is adaptable by state and local health departments as needed, revolves around infection prevention and control in veterinary practices during the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released interim guidance for companion animal veterinary practices in an effort to “to facilitate preparedness and to ensure practices are in place in a veterinary clinical setting to help people and animals stay safe and healthy.”
The guidance begins with a discussion of what is currently known about animals and COVID-19. Although it now appears that in rare cases people can spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to animals—two pet cats in the U.S. have reportedly tested positive—health experts agree that animals do not play a significant role in spreading the virus to people or other animals. According to the guidance document, “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.”
Veterinary practices should implement flexible, nonpunitive sick leave policies that are consistent with public health guidance, allowing employees to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory infection. Staff should be permitted to return to work following a potential exposure to COVID-19 as long as they remain asymptomatic and implement additional precautions to protect themselves and the workplace.
To preserve both personal protective equipment (PPE) and reduce social contact, practices should “prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures until regular business operations resume” in their community. Practice staff should take precautions to minimize contact with all pet owners.
Before scheduled appointments or upon arrival, clients should be asked whether the pet has been exposed to anyone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Clients with suspected or confirmed infection should be told not to visit veterinary practices. Telemedicine may be used as an alternative based on state requirements regarding the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Mobile veterinarians caring for a pet in the home of a COVID-19 patient should refrain from entering the client’s home if possible, wear PPE, and wash their hands immediately after removing PPE, handling the animal or interacting with a sick person or household contact.
Clinical signs of SARS-CoV-2 in animals remain largely undefined but may include fever, cough, breathing difficulty, lethargy, sneezing, nasal or ocular discharge, vomiting or diarrhea, according to the CDC. Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is currently not recommended. In animals that present with these nonspecific signs, veterinarians should attempt to rule out other, more common causes of illness before considering SARS-CoV-2 testing, especially among animals without a COVID-19 exposure. Testing is not currently available for amphibians, reptiles, fish or birds.
If an animal is tested and the result is presumptive positive, veterinarians should contact their state public health veterinarian or state veterinarian immediately regarding next steps. The testing laboratory will contact USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories for guidance on forwarding samples for confirmatory testing. The guidance also lists considerations for home isolation of pets infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Due to potential shortages of PPE for health care personnel treating human COVID-19 patients, veterinary practices are advised to review existing strategies for optimizing and reusing PPE where possible. The document also provides detailed guidance for what types of PPE should be worn based on pet history, and how to don and doff the equipment for optimal safety.
Cleaning spills, disposing of waste and laundering of potentially exposed items are covered in the guidance.
Key messages to share with pet owners at this time include the fact that there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people or other animals. That said, there is now some evidence that in rare situations infected people can spread the virus to animals. The guidance also provides veterinary teams with information that should be shared with pet owners who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
The guidance document, which goes into much greater detail on all of these recommendations, can be found here.