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. If you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, you may also be subject to additional restrictions. 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 or sign up to our coronavirus email updates.

Government guidance states that it is rare for an animal to catch coronavirus. If they do contract the virus, they often only show mild symptoms and are better within a few days.

There is limited evidence that ferrets may be affected by coronavirus based on mink infections. The government has issued precautionary advice to ferret owners on what to do if you have a ferret and need to self-isolate.

The government has also provided general advice, such as regular hand washing, to other small pet owners.

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. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after stroking your pet, or touching its food or bedding.

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, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. If you think you may have coronavirus, follow the latest advice found on the NHS website.

Does my pet need to be vaccinated against Covid-19?

There is currently no Covid-19 vaccine available for use in animals, including dogs and cats. 

Despite recent media reports, there is no evidence that animals can pass coronavirus to people. However, as a precaution you should follow good hygiene routines including washing your hands before and after any contact with your pet, its food and bedding.

What if I have a ferret and need to self-isolate?

As a precaution, your ferret must isolate for 21 days from people and ferrets from other households if:

  • you or your household are self-isolating
  • you’ve brought your ferret to England from a country not on the travel corridor list
  • you’ve recently returned with your pet through the Pet Travel Scheme back to Wales

This is due to limited evidence that ferrets may be affected by coronavirus based on mink infections.
If you are self-isolating in Scotland, the Scottish government also advises that you ask someone else to care for your ferrets. If this is not possible, you should wear a facemask and gloves, avoid kissing and cuddling your pets, make sure you wash your hands and limit the time spent with them.

If you live in Northern Ireland, DAERA advises that you should avoid contact with ferrets if you have symptoms of Covid-19 or have had a positive test. Ideally someone else would look after your ferret. If this is not possible, you should wear a facemask and gloves.

Read guidance for ferret owners in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If your ferret needs emergency veterinary care, you should contact the vet beforehand. You can then arrange to have it taken to the vet by someone outside your household.

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.

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

You should:

  • wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching your pet, its food or its bedding
  • not share food with your pet
  • avoid kissing or cuddling your pet if you are self-isolating

It’s also 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.

How do I protect my small pet from coronavirus?

If you have Covid-19 or have been asked to self-isolate then, ideally, you should restrict contact with your small pet ie no kissing, cuddling or stroking.

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

Can I still take my pet to the vet?

While veterinary practices can remain open, many vets are working within government restrictions and may not be able to see as many pets as usual. Routine appointments may 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 before seeing them. Social distancing rules continue to apply in urgent face-to-face appointments, which includes limiting the number of owners present for the consultation. In many 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 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 put your pet to sleep 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.

How your pet will be put to sleep 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 free and confidential Pet Bereavement Support Service is 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?

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 03/06/2021

Did you find this helpful?

We provide free pet advice as every pet deserves to be well looked after. We treated around 35,000 sick injured and homeless pets last year. We're so glad we've been able to help these pets who are unable to help themselves, but there are thousands of sick and lonely pets still in need, so we need to ask for a small favour.

All of our work is funded entirely through donations. People like you are essential to our work. If everyone who benefits from our articles is able to give a little back, we can reach thousands more pets. For as little as £1 you can make a difference - do you have one minute? Thank you.