Pets, Vets, and COVID-19

by Michelle C. Pardo

In these difficult pandemic times, medical talent and personal protective equipment (PPE) have become the most treasured and necessary resources as our nation battles this fast-moving virus.  States and municipalities have been forced to think outside the box to try to source more equipment and identify additional, trained professionals to address the escalating needs of those individuals and facilities treating COVID-19 patients.Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture has done just that.  It announced that it was temporarily waiving the requirement that dogs and cats be spayed and neutered prior to adoption.  Shelters and rescue organizations have continued to adopt out animals during the shelter-in-place period, particularly to avoid overcrowding at shelter facilities that may also be experiencing staff shortages due to coronavirus infection.  The waiver is designed to preserve scarce PPE for human healthcare workers and minimize veterinary and staff contact.  While compliance with the spay/neuter regulation is temporarily waived, adopters are required to follow-up and obtain the procedures within 120 days after adoption.  Re-evaluation of that time period will be reviewed if necessary, given the fluid nature and duration of the pandemic.

Ilinois has also been on the hunt for additional medical resources, including PPE and ventilators,  and trained professionals who can treat patients and operate life-saving equipment.  The “Illinois Helps” website (www.illinoishelps.net) hosts a list where veterinarians who are interested in lending assistance and training to human medicine can register and potentially be activated to “work in a hospital surge or alternative housing setting.”  Through Illinois Helps, volunteers can get licensing and background checks completed; a prerequisite to working in a human care setting.  Like many states, Illinois is accepting donations of PPE from veterinarians, veterinary schools or other facilities that do not have a pressing need to use the equipment or otherwise have a surplus.

Many veterinary hospitals and facilities utilize ventilators that were made for human healthcare and veterinarians therefore have the expertise to use the equipment or potentially lend their medical equipment to hospitals in need.  While veterinarians are not likely to be the first-line health care professionals treating COVID-19 patients, they can provide technical help while being supervised by MDs.

The donation of PPE and medical supplies has been encouraged by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the nation’s leading advocacy group for the veterinary profession.  The AVMA has issued this statement to its members:

“The veterinary profession will need to do its part, so it’s critical that veterinarians think strategically about how to conserve.  As an example, because of the need to conserve PPE, and within the context of professional judgment, veterinarians should consider postponing elective surgical procedures as long as doing so is medically appropriate.”

AVMA, Latest COVID-19 Update Emailed to Our Members (3/19/2020).

The AVMA has also been active in urging states to designate veterinary medical practices as “essential” businesses so that they may continue to operate during state shelter-in-place orders and provide veterinary services to animals in need.

Although the headlines have not been focused on this, some have asked whether the COVID-19 virus is transmissible between humans and pets.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, and others cause illness in certain types of animals.
  • Coronaviruses that infect animals can sometimes be spread to people, but this is rare.
  • We do not know the exact source of the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person to person.
  • CDC is aware of a very small number of pets outside the United States reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 after close contact with people with COVID-19.
  • We do not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19.

As with many aspects of the virus, scientific information is being obtained daily.  In the meantime, any methods to direct resources to our healthcare workers on the front lines is of paramount importance.