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FAQ: Foster Care of COVID-19 Exposed Pets

Important new information for animal shelters, rescue groups, and foster programs when making a community plan to help COVID-exposed animals needing temporary care! 

The Association’s Katherine Shenar sat down with Dr. Sandra Newbury, Shelter Medicine Program Director for the University of Wisconsin, for the latest recommendations for pets exposed to COVID-19. Dr. Newbury has highlighted the important questions below, and urges you to share them, and the complete interview, with your staff and colleagues. 

FAQ: Foster Care of COVID-Exposed Pets

Q: If I become sick with COVID and have to be hospitalized, what happens to my pet?

A: What we are really hoping is that you will make a plan for your pet now so that you will be able to answer that question for yourself. Plans don’t always work out, but things will be so much better for your pet, and everyone trying to help you and your pet, if you can make a plan with family or friends in advance. Providing animal service agencies with permission to enter home if needed may be helpful. (see question 4 below).

One really important thing to consider is that there is some evidence to suggest you might be a source of infection for your cat, ferret, or dog. If you do start feeling sick, it’s a good idea to stay separated from your pet, just as you would from any of your family members. Keeping yourself separated from your pet when you’re sick is another way you can help your pet and everyone trying to help you care for your pet.

Q: If the shelter takes in an animal because their owner dies or is hospitalized, how long before a shelter can place that COVID exposed pet into a foster or adoptive home? 

A: Recommendations from the CDC/AVMA/ Shelter Medicine programs suggest animals coming from homes of a person infected with COVID-19 should be held in the shelter for 14 days before being released for foster care or adoption.

Q: Instead of taking them into the shelter could the animals be sent to foster right away? 

A: Rather than sending animals directly to foster care, animal services and animal welfare groups should admit exposed animals to an area of the shelter that is separated from their general population and wait 14 days prior to release for foster or adoption.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that animals pose a risk of transmission to humans or play a role in the epidemiology of the disease. But there is some evidence that animals, at this point only from high dose experimental infections, may transmit the virus to other animals (cats and ferrets) and one report so far, from Belgium, that a companion animal (cat) became sick from contact with its owner.  Because we are learning more about this virus every day, and so much is still unknown, the recommendations for handling use an abundance of caution model. This means that when we don’t have all the answers we act in a very cautious way because animal services and animal welfare organizations have a particular responsibility to protect public health.  

Q: Are there alternatives to shelter intake for COVID exposed pets of hospitalized people who don’t have anyone to care for them?

A: Sheltering cats in place, in their homes, is an option that some animal service agencies are trying. It is a great idea to avoid limiting risk of transmission between animals. Care can be accomplished with minimal entry into the home.

We encourage all groups in a community to plan ahead and work to find the best alternative to shelter housing for animals who are coming from homes exposed to COVID-19. This is especially true for animals who only need temporary housing because their owners plan to reclaim them or a family or friend will be coming to claim them soon. In some cases, this may mean the community forms a partnership with a boarding facility and in other cases it may mean that one or two organizations in the community are identified as the having the best capacity to provide that care. 

Q: What should shelters do if a foster parent becomes sick with COVID?

A: If a foster parent becomes sick with COVID-19 the person should limit contact with the animal, just as they would with members of their own family. If the foster parent can no longer care for the animal, then the animal should return to the shelter following the protocols for an exposed pet. If the foster parent or their family can continue to care for the pet, then the pet should stay in the home until 14 days past the current definition of resolution of disease for the foster parent.

Go-To Resource

University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program COVID-19 information sheets
Video: Expert Advice from Dr. Sandra Newbury

About University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program is committed to saving animal lives while improving animal health and well-being in shelters. We accomplish this goal through three main objectives: shelter outreach and support; education; and development of knowledge in the field.

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