CVA Overview Statement on Covid-19 and the Veterinary Profession

April 2020

 This statement is intended to give an overview of Covid-19 and the veterinary profession, signposting to supporting information and resources (these are not exhaustive).


The coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of viruses that cause illness in humans and animals.

The Covid-19 virus is a new strain of coronavirus that is currently causing flu-like symptoms in humans across the world.

The CoV which causes COVID-19 has been named as SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). The virus may also be referred to as “the COVID-19 virus” or “the virus responsible for COVID-19”. Covid-19 refers to the disease caused by the virus.

Further information:

OIE questions and answers on the 2019 Coronavirus disease (Covid-19)

Covid-19 and companion animals

The current spread of Covid-19 is a result of human to human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that animals are involved in the ongoing transmission of Covid-19 to humans. Current evidence suggests Covid-19 has an animal source however this remains under investigation.

A small number of animal infections have been reported to the OIE. So far, these appear to be isolated cases, and there is no evidence that companion animals are playing a role in the spread of human disease.

Like human hands, pet fur could be a fomite. This underpins the importance of good hygiene – particularly, washing hands well with soap after touching any pets or their associated items (for 20 seconds with soap and water), and avoiding close contact such as face-licking.

Further information:

 Covid-19 and veterinary practice

Social distancing measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 have impacted the provision of veterinary services.

WVA and OIE state that activities necessary for the following should be sustained:

  • national and regional veterinary regulatory and inspection services can oversee the integrity of public health
  • only healthy animals and their by-products enter the food supply to guarantee food safety for the populations,
  • emergency situations can be addressed,
  • preventative measures, such as vaccination against diseases with a significant public health or economic impact, are maintained.
  • priority research activities continue.

Companion animal veterinary work has largely been reduced to an emergency service only, with many veterinary staff working remotely to triage cases and offer telephone/video consultations when available. Remote prescribing of veterinary medicines may be permitted in some countries, or be permitted temporarily.

Pet owners are advised to call the veterinary practice before attending, so that veterinary staff can assess whether an in-person visit is necessary.

Those owners who are advised to attend in person will experience an adapted type of visit, to ensure social distancing is respected; for example, being asked to wait outside. They can expect staff to be wearing protective equipment, when it is indicated and available.

The veterinary profession is grateful for the patience and understanding of pet owners at this time.

For clients whose pet is unwell, but it is not an obvious emergency, there are online veterinary symptom-checkers available for further information and guidance. If in doubt, clients are advised to please call their veterinary practice.

Further information:

 Meeting the welfare needs of pets during social restrictions

 Many countries have introduced social distancing measures to reduce virus transmission and pressure on healthcare systems.

Pet owners and veterinary professionals should familiarise themselves with guidance or rules about pet care during the pandemic, that apply to them.

In the UK, for example, national pet charities and veterinary bodies have issued guidance for pet owners. This says that when practising social distancing, each person in a household can go for a walk once a day, and can take their dog with them, but they and their dog must stay at least two metres from others. When self-isolating (i.e. due to suspected or confirmed Covid-19), a family dog should either be cared for, or walked daily, by a trusted third party. The UK Canine and Feline Sector Group has further guidance on how to do this in a way that protects public health.

Regarding pet cats, the same guidance says that for those who are self-isolating, if their cat is used to staying indoors then keep them inside and clean their litter tray regularly. If an outdoor cat, try to minimise interactions with them and observe strict hand-washing and hygiene. Sudden confinement of cats that are used to going outside can precipitate acute stress and associated disease such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, which may present as a medical emergency.

Companion animals can be stressed by changes in their routine and usual circumstances – e.g. the presence of children and other family members who would normally be at school or work. This may manifest as abnormal and undesirable animal behaviour. Pets should be provided with resting and hiding places where they can go and be left alone.

Guidance for veterinary practices is available for dealing with queries about animal behaviour during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Further information:

Covid-19, domestic abuse and links with abuse of animals

 An increased incidence of domestic abuse has been recorded during lockdown periods. There are inter-relationships, commonly referred to as ‘links’, between the abuse of children, vulnerable adults and animals. Veterinary professionals should continue to be aware of their opportunities and responsibilities to detect and appropriately act on signs of suspected non-accidental injury in animals.

Further information:

Covid-19 and mental health of veterinary professionals

 New ways of working by veterinary teams to uphold animal welfare while protecting public health, necessarily rapidly introduced, have a heightened risk for compromised mental health. Risks include stress and fatigue (e.g. from rapid change), anxiety (e.g. from worrying about the health of themselves and loved ones) and moral stress (e.g. from seeing a higher proportion of very unwell animals in an emergency-only service and having usual treatment options altered or curtailed by social restrictions). It is important for veterinary teams, both employers and employees, to be aware of these risks, ensure they prioritise their own self-care and seek and provide support to one another.

Further information:

Covid-19, mental health and companion animal ownership

Pets are an important source of companionship to many and this will be even more important during periods of social distancing, helping to combat loneliness and anxiety. While these mental health benefits should be recognised, and necessary veterinary care continued to ensure the animals and their owners can remain well, we caution against pet acquisition during the pandemic. At this time, it may be difficult to safely acquire pets while respecting social distancing measures, veterinary services are restricted to emergencies only (making it difficult to get necessary preventive veterinary healthcare, such as vaccinations) and it could be a more stressful time for a young pet to adjust to your household circumstances.

Covid-19 – equine veterinary work

 Like companion animal veterinary work, equine veterinary work has largely been reduced to an emergency service only, with many veterinary staff working remotely to triage cases and offer telephone/video consultations when available. Remote prescribing of veterinary medicines may be permitted in some countries or be permitted temporarily.

Further information on equine veterinary work during Covid-19 can be found by following the guidelines of the British Equine Veterinary Association British Equine Veterinary Association – Covid-19

Covid-19 – farm animal work

 Veterinary professionals are working hard to maintain food production during the pandemic, from farm to fork, ensuring that food is produced to high standards of animal health, welfare and safety.

In addition to their role in food production, livestock veterinarians are engaged in disease diagnosis, treatment and emergency animal disease (EAD) surveillance. Veterinarians are on the frontline of endemic and exotic disease detection and response, and it is essential that these roles are fulfilled throughout any enforced shutdown.

Government veterinarians fulfil many critical roles in the livestock supply chain that enable animals to be transported, transacted and processed for protein production in both domestic and export markets. It is essential that these roles can continue to be performed right throughout any COVID-19 shutdown so that food safety and security are both protected.