Two guinea pigs sitting together

Small pets and coronavirus

Our coronavirus information on this page is written in line with guidelines issued by the Westminster government for England. Rules are largely the same for all areas of the UK but if you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, regulations may differ. Our advice is a guide for pet owners and should not be taken as legal advice. Alongside government advice, we are giving suggestions from Blue Cross experts to help pet owners apply the new measures to caring for their pets. We are updating this advice as frequently as possible, so please keep checking back.

This is a changing situation, there is no evidence that pets in the UK have been infected with the new coronavirus, and there is nothing to suggest that pets can transmit Covid-19 to people.

However, we strongly recommend that you maintain a good hand washing regime when it comes to handling small pets like rabbits, hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, degus and chinchillas.

The government has not issued specific advice for small pets, but is giving guidance on other pet species. Aside from the coronavirus outbreak, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after stroking your pets for protection against viruses and bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella. Due to the current situation, it is sensible to wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after stroking your pet if they are handled by multiple people in your household as an additional precaution.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals.

Covid-19 is a new strain of the coronaviruses that is affecting humans. Like seven other strains throughout history, is thought to have made the jump from animals to humans, though the exact source of this strain is still under investigation.

The most common human symptoms are a high temperature and a continuous cough. This virus can cause pneumonia, coughing, fever and difficulty with breathing and, in extreme cases, death. If you think you may have coronavirus, follow the latest advice found on the NHS website.

Are small pets like guinea pigs and rabbits safe to be kept outside?

If your guinea pigs and rabbits are normally kept in outdoor housing, they should remain there. There is no current evidence that they can catch Covid-19 or that they can spread it, so they can continue to enjoy the great outdoors.

I have an indoor small pet; how can I reduce the risk of coronavirus?

Coronavirus is not currently known to be a risk to small pets. However, it’s good practice to keep your pet’s food and litter areas clean. Keeping your small pet mentally stimulated will keep active minds busy, too. There are many fun ways to create enrichment for your pets that will entertain you both during periods of social-distancing and self-isolation due to coronavirus.

Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling your pet too – this helps keep the spread of bacteria to a minimum.

How do I protect my small pet from coronavirus?

If you have Covid-19 then, ideally, you’ll restrict contact with your small pet ie no kissing, cuddling or stroking. Although there is no current evidence that pets can get the virus, the situation is still evolving, so it’s better to be safe.

If you are ill and have sole responsibility of your small pet with no help, then be sure to wash your hands before and after handling them and wear a facemask, if you have one available.

Can I still take my pet to the vet?

While veterinary practices can remain open under new government rules to limit the spread of coronavirus, animals can only be seen in person, in emergencies. Routine appointments have been put on hold, with online or phone consultation services being offered by many vets instead. 

You will need to discuss with your vet whether preventative care, such as vaccinations and neutering, is an urgent priority for your pet. They will assess this on a case by case basis as per advice from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the UK's veterinary governing bodies.

If you think your pet needs to be seen as an emergency case, contact your vet. Social distancing rules continue to apply in urgent face-to-face appointments, which includes limiting the number of owners present for the consultation. In most cases owners will be asked to wait outside the building while their pet is treated. Policies between veterinary practices may vary. Keep an eye on your vet practice’s social media, as many practices are putting up to date information for clients on their Facebook pages.

Can I still get the medication my pet needs?

Urgent medication and treatments for your pet may be prescribed through remote consultations while strict social distancing measures are in place. Your vet will advise you how you can collect the supplies, as procedures vary between practices.

My pet’s vaccinations have expired, what do I do?

If your pet is due to have their boosters or first inoculations, the BVA and RCVS have advised that vets may be able to carry these out if they believe them to be essential to your pet’s welfare but, like everyone else, vets have to follow the current government guidelines on Covid-19 prevention.

They will assess each case on an individual level and proceed if they consider the benefit to animal welfare to be greater than the risk to human health. 

Can my pet be neutered?

Pets will be assessed on a case by case basis to see if neutering is an essential treatment for your pet’s welfare under new advice from the BVA and RCVS. This will take into consideration their general health and if they live with other unneutered pets of the same species and opposite sex.

What measures are in place for euthanasia of pets?

The decision to euthanise your pet can be an extremely difficult one to make, and your vet will continue to do everything they can to guide you through this sad process. Current guidelines say veterinary consultations should be given without the owner present, and this includes those in which pets will be put to sleep. This is to comply with social distancing measures. Some vets are able to sedate pets with the owner present first in order to reduce stress for the animal. This will depend on the individual pet’s case and the vet’s discretion and facilities, so speak to your practice for further advice on this. Our Pet Bereavement Support Service remains open to calls and emails, so please do get in touch if you need help coming to terms with pet loss at this difficult time.

What’s the impact on my pet insurance?

With many vets operating on an emergency only basis, you may be concerned with making a claim on your insurance. Normally, many policies become invalid if your pet is not up to date on routine care, such as vaccinations.

During this time, many insurance companies have agreed to take a flexible approach on policy requirements. The Association of British Insurers, which many pet insurance companies are members of, has said it recognises this is an unprecedented time and has advised insurers to be flexible where government restrictions mean pet owners are unable to get to a vet for their pet’s annual vaccinations, health check and dental examination.

Many insurers are also offering additional support through any claims to customers who are worried about the health of their pet during this difficult time.

If your pet is due their booster vaccinations, and you’re concerned as to how this may affect your policy, it’s best to call your insurance provider directly and discuss this with them.

For pets that are due their initial vaccinations, speak to your vet, as this will also have an impact on when they’re allowed out of the house.

— Page last updated 15/04/2020

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