Animal Health and COVID-19: Common Questions with Answers
As the situation around the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, it often feels like there are more questions than answers. At Elanco, we’re monitoring the situation closely and remain committed to supporting our customers and the animals in their care. As part of that commitment, we’re sharing guidance from our leading scientists and veterinarians, along with third party resources, to provide factual, helpful information in the areas of pet health; the safety of meat, milk and eggs; and animal health and safety on the farm.
Answers to the animal and public health questions below were provided by the following Elanco Animal Health subject matter experts, who address animal health and wellness needs every day:
- Shabbir Simjee, M.D., Ph.D. in infectious disease, chief medical officer
- Tony Rumschlag, DVM, director of consulting veterinarians for companion animals
- Brandon Reinbold, DVM, principal research scientist
You, your employees, and the animals in your care are at the center of all we do. As the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold, please know:
- Our manufacturing network is fully operational. We’re taking extra precautions to protect our team and continuity of supply. We continue to monitor our supply chain and will work diligently to adapt to this changing situation.
- We have contingency measures in place, we maintain safety stock supplies and, in some cases, have secondary sourcing options in place if needed, to help prevent supply disruptions.
- Ensuring the health and safety of our employees is our top priority. We are following all government regulations and taking appropriate measures to keep our employees safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19, including restricting travel, and instituting remote working arrangements for those beyond the labs and manufacturing sites.
Read on for more information, along with a message from our CEO, Jeff Simmons, to find out more about what we are doing today to ensure continuity in our support of our customers and the animals in our collective care. For ongoing updates and more general information on animal health, be sure to follow us on Twitter(@Elanco), Facebook(@elancoanimalhealth), Instagram(@Elanco).
Keeping Pets and Pet Owners Healthy
Can dogs and cats become infected with the coronavirus?
Many forms of coronaviruses exist, including one that infects dogs and one that infects cats. However, neither virus is COVID-19, and the viruses that impact one species do not impact the other, or humans. It is unlikely for COVID-19 to adapt itself to animals such as dogs and cats.
As stated by the American Veterinarian Medical Association, “infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations (CDC, OIE, WHO) agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.”1
What about the reports of a dog in Hong Kong with COVID-19?
While initial tests of a dog in Hong Kong indicated the presence of SARS-CoV2, the betacoronavirus that causes COVID-19, in the dog’s nasal and oral cavities, the results were a “weak positive” and did not differentiate whether or not the virus was infecting the dog.2 Follow-up tests also did not indicate an active response against the virus within the dog. Elanco Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shabbir Simjee, described this as transient colonization, which means the virus, while present, was not able to sufficiently stick to dogs’ host cells and therefore would be gone from the animal within a few hours. This reinforces what we’re hearing from organizations like the CDC and WHO, which say that there is no evidence that companion animals or pets such as cats and dogs can be infected by or spread COVID-19.
If I am sick, should I stay away from my pets?
If you are infected with COVID-19, the CDC is recommending limited exposure to your pets out of an abundance of caution. The virus could potentially live on pets’ fur, etc., for a short time and transfer it to other people – though it tends to survive best on hard surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs.
How can pets help with social isolation?
Companion animals can help combat loneliness as many people take up social distancing and isolation guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Living and interacting with pets regularly reduces levels of stress and anxiety. In fact, one study examining self-management in the everyday lives of people with a long-term mental health condition found that sixty percent of patients ranked pets among their “most important circle of supportive connection.”3 We can all benefit from a pet’s emotional support during this time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers extensive tips and guidance for managing mental and social health during this time. For more information, visit the CDC website about managing anxiety and stress.
Is it safe to take pets out for walks?
Yes – with the right precautions. Just be sure to continue abiding by social isolation guidelines, avoiding crowds and close interactions with other people.
If we’re spending less time with other humans, we can certainly enjoy time with our dogs and cats. If we’re not infected, we should enjoy being around them.
My dog is due for the renewal of his vaccines, but everything is closed. Should I wait or go to an emergency vet? What risk am I a taking?
Dr. Rumschlag provides this guidance for pet owners: Vaccine protection doesn’t suddenly expire when they are due for renewal so while it’s not ideal, the risk of delaying a vaccine renewal by a few weeks or even a couple of months is minimal. If you were intending to place your pet in a boarding facility or travel with them, it would be more critical to have documentation that the vaccines are current, but in the pandemic environment, that should not be the concern. Just ensure that your pet’s protection gets updated once businesses resume normal operation.
Adjusting Routine Pet Care
What kind of pet products should I make sure to stock up on at home?
To limit trips away from home, and to adhere to social distancing guidelines, any routine medications, food, and supplies are the most important items to have on hand. For instance, ensure your pet won’t run out of monthly heartworm or intestinal parasite products. This would include flea and tick medications, as the weather is starting to warm up in many geographies.
If your pet has any chronic or recurrent condition, such as diabetes, persistent allergies or recurrent ear infections, you should ensure that you have medications on hand to manage these conditions through the next several weeks.
Litter or bedding material are also important items to remember for cats and various small pets.
What if I am stuck at home and have no pet food left, what can I give to my pet?
That really depends on your pet. In many instances, you should use caution – if they are sensitive to dietary changes, if they have diarrhea or vomiting with changes to their diet, or if they have food allergies. It’s always best to discuss your individual pet’s needs with your veterinarian. If that isn’t an option, most dogs will tolerate and enjoy cooked rice mixed 1:1 with cottage cheese or cooked meat (especially chicken, turkey, or hamburger). Cats will generally be more receptive to canned fish, turkey or chicken (or cottage cheese) along with cooked rice. Many dogs can go for a short period of time eating foods generally similar to what we eat, although it’s important to avoid spicy or high fat foods and to carefully remove any bones and excess fat. Avoid grease or fatty drippings from cooking meats.
I am not allowed outside of my house; how can I make sure my dog gets some exercise at home?
That depends on many things including the size of the dog, the size of the house, the health of the dog (e.g., any osteoarthritis or orthopedic issues), etc. However, being inside with your pet can be a great opportunity to work on training for various activities or tricks. Training provides some exercise while also stimulating the mind. Additionally, you can simply walk your dog throughout your home. If space and flooring allow, fetch can be a great exercise. Even if they don’t bring the object back to you, many will chase after a rolling ball. If you have food puzzles, you can encourage exercise while pets work for their regular meal.
I have run out of cat litter and it’s out of stock at the moment, what are my options?
You want to be careful as some cats are extremely finicky about the texture of the material used in their litter box. Possible options in a pinch include shredded newspaper and/or other shredded paper materials, as well as fresh, clean sand.
Ensuring Food Safety
Is it safe to eat meat, milk and eggs? Can I get the virus through animal protein?
It is safe to consume animal protein. Current evidence does not suggest that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through food, and most of the animal proteins we eat are cooked or pasteurized. As these products make their way through the manufacturing process, the number of human interactions per product is much lower compared to other parts of the world.
If fresh meat, poultry and dairy products are not available at your local grocery store, consider shelf-stable and canned options to continue getting the important B12 and other nutrients these foods provide. Canned meat and poultry, powdered eggs and milk offer alternatives to fresh products. As we work to stay healthy, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet that includes micronutrients and vitamins from animal-based sources.
Are there precautions consumers should take when handling meat?
While the COVID-19 virus can’t be transmitted through meat, it is important to keep in mind standard handling procedures to stay safe. Similar to the renewed focus on handwashing, we can all renew our focus on proper food preparation and handling practices. Discard food packaging when no longer in use and wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Meat should also be handled properly to avoid cross-contamination and prepared to the proper temperature. Wash hands and clean any surfaces or utensils that come into contact with raw meat or eggs before coming into contact with other food or surfaces. For more details on proper food handling and preparation, visit Food Safety.gov.
Health and Care of Livestock
Can livestock animals be infected with COVID-19?
Current evidence shares that it’s very unlikely for the COVID-19 virus to transmit from humans to animals.4 Like our pets, livestock have coronavirus specific to their own species, and those infections are typically mild and managed with keeping the animal hydrated.
How can farm workers stay safe?
As always, livestock care givers should follow safety procedures that protect them and other livestock from zoonotic diseases, including wearing personal protection equipment, washing hands after interacting with animals and changing clothes and boots before traveling to other farms.
What is the impact to Elanco employees?
Ensuring the health and safety of our employees is always our top priority. We are following all government regulations and taking appropriate measures across the globe to keep our employees safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19. That includes restricting travel and instituting remote working arrangements.
Can I still visit with my Elanco sales representative?
As a customer, your sales representative is always your best resource for information. While face-to-face meetings may not be possible, sales representatives are available to help via phone and email. Please reach out if you have questions, or need help in any way.
Will supply be impacted during this pandemic?
All plants are fully operational, with no current anticipated impact on the ability to fulfill customers’ orders due to COVID-19. Maintaining a reliable product supply is always our key focus, and we will stay in close contact with our customers if anything changes.
What changes will happen to innovation?
We continue to work hard to advance the pipeline. The pipeline continues to move forward, and plans are progressing.
We don’t have all the answers, but many resources are available to help you find additional information. For more information on the COVID-19 virus and safety guidelines, visit the following websites:
- Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA)
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)