COVID-19 is an unprecedented pandemic due to a novel coronavirus. More than four million people globally have died as a result, and nearly two hundred million have been reported as infected by now. FVE continuous to actively monitor the situation on COVID-19 and its potential impacts on veterinary medicine. Our goal is to support you with relevant information in this fast-evolving situation. We are in regular contact with WHO, OIE, ECDC, EU and all our sister veterinary associations (FECAVA, EBVS, WVA, AVMA, etc).
COVID & animals – COVID & food
‘Should we be afraid of getting COVID from animals? No, animals have to be afraid to get it from people, not the other way around’.
Over the months, despite massive research, only a few isolated cases of animals have been found infected with COVID. This shows that this is a virus with a clear preference for humans and that the main transmission method is human to human. The role of animals, as we know now, is neglectable.
In animals, only a great number of outbreaks have been seen in mink, which showed a respiratory disease and increased mortality on most affected mink farms. It is likely that Infected workers introduced the SARS-CoV-2 to the minks on the farms. Once introduced, spread occurred between mink, as well as from mink to other animals on the farm such as dogs or cats and back to humans.
Though preventing human-to-mink transmission is most important, vaccination of mink could be an important way to control mink-to-human transmission in order to avoid the escape of novel SARS-CoV-2 variants. Zoetis developed a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for animals, that has been used experimentally in mink and recently zoo to address outbreaks and as a preventive measure to protect endangered species.
There is currently no evidence that pets play a significant role in spreading the virus to people, and the risk of pets spreading COVID-19 back to people is very low. There have been no reported cases in which a dog or a cat has been proven to transmit the virus to people, they are supposedly dead-end hosts. At the moment, there is no apparent need for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for dogs and cats from a public health standpoint as told by the WSAVA
Nevertheless, pet owners should always maintain good hygiene practices (including handwashing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing them) and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets. If an owner has COVID, close contact with family members, including pets, should be avoided. Good resources on this can be found by Dr. Scott Weese .
As veterinarians, it is important to ensure that this crisis and its aftermath will not lead to animal welfare problems e.g. abandonment of horses, an increase of stray dogs, etc. There are increasing reports from overcrowded shelters in different countries due to dogs that won’t cope with their separation anxiety now that their owners return to work, ill puppies illegally sold online, and owners claiming back their travel liberty and leaving their pets behind. FVE engages continuously with all relevant stakeholders to raise awareness of and contribute to responsible ownership of pets, particularly during the pandemic.
In respect to food, as stated by the European Food Safety Authority, there is no evidence that food poses a risk to public health in relation to COVID-19.
See EU Commission Covid & food safety Q&As HERE
- EU Commission
- OIE covid webpage
- Guidance from Canada on animals and COVID: here
- COVID: origin and transmission (in French)
- European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians: Transmissible Diseases Handbook
- Excellent blog from Dr. Scott-Weese: blog
COVID and the veterinary services
“All European vets have been impacted by COVID-19 to a greater or lesser degree” FVE president Rens van Dobbenburgh
However, there are differences between countries and sectors.’ Surveys in different countries showed that companion animal veterinarians were particularly affected due to the various lockdowns. In the first lockdown in spring 2020, many countries – including Spain, Italy, France and the UK – only urgent and emergency treatment was allowed, which had a great impact on the loss of clients and revenue. In other countries, such as Iceland, Germany and Austria, practices could stay open, as long as they respected social distancing and hygiene measures. Many veterinarians have suffered and continue to suffer from physical and mental illness associated with the pandemic, isolation, financial restrictions, and the long-term effects of the infection. Veterinarians were recognized in most European countries as essential due to the core business ensuring health and welfare of animals and simultaneously maintaining food safety and security throughout the food supply chain as well as their outstanding contribution to disease surveillance and control, wildlife monitoring, research, development and diagnostic in a One Health perspective (people, animals, and the environment).
With eased social restrictions and sanitary measures and rising vaccination rates, FVE acknowledges and pays tribute to the collaborative efforts of all sectors made during the pandemic. However, even if human COVID-19 cases remain low regionally, veterinary clinics may deem it appropriate to maintain their sanitary measures. COVID-19 will continue to represent a threat for months or years to come, and various control measures will be required during that period. Veterinarians will need to continue to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spreading in veterinary practices. Because COVID-19 is mostly, if not entirely, transmitted from person to person, the overarching purpose of physical separation is to limit spatiotemporal human-to-human contact. When distance is not practicable, however, precautions must be taken to decrease the risk of exposure.
- Statement of the World Animal Health Association (OIE) and the World Veterinary Association (WVA)
- Statement of American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
How to keep your veterinary team healthy
In veterinary practice, there is no one-size-fits-all method to COVID-19 control that can be applied to all conditions and practice types. Veterinarians and veterinary clinics must rather analyse and implement a set of expectations and areas of attention, as applicable. Dr. Scott Weese and the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association compiled clinic-specific considerations including:
- Epidemiological situation and variants of concern (VOC) dynamics in the area, especially the development after the summer holiday season
- Vaccine coverage (full vaccination with two doses) in the area
- Vaccine coverage in clinic personnel including the presence of staff at increased risk of severe disease or that cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons
- Ability to optimise infection control practices and ventilation, as discussed below
- Ability to use hybrid measures to reduce overall numbers of people that enter the clinic
The information, guidelines, and best practices listed below can help employers and employees prevent COVID-19 from spreading in veterinary facilities.
1. General infection prevention and control
- Establishing cleaning and disinfection protocol (e.g., surfaces after each patient)
- Maximising ventilation and air filtering and treatment
- Maximising the use of personal protective equipment for clients and staff (e.g., masks)
- Optimising clinic flow and maximizing the use of physical barriers (e.g., plexiglass shields)
- Minimising or avoiding contact in closed spaces (outdoor lunch breaks or meetings)
New buildings should consider the flow of persons within the clinic and how client visits are handled (e.g. exam rooms used for appointments so that clients wait in that room while the patient is examined by clinical staff in a separate area).
2. Physical distancing
- Limiting the number of people that are in the clinic at any given time
- Limiting the number of people that enter the clinic (single owner, only one intern, etc.)
- Limiting contact between staff and staff – animal owners
- Minimising the duration of contact between animal owners and clinic personnel
- Maximising care that does not involve the client entering the clinic (e.g. canopy – outdoor)
A gradual re-introduction of in-clinic visits can be done by maintaining some degree of curb side care delivery, telemedicine and hybrid appointments. FVE recommends its members to investigate the use of telemedicine in the context of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) by setting up standard operating procedures, codes of conduct and proportionate regulation that respects the mission of veterinarians in promoting animal health, animal welfare, public health and the protection of the environment through the provision of high-quality services. In-clinic visits can be focused on situations where there are client communication or patient care benefits to allowing an owner to enter the building.
3. Staff management
- Establish clinic occupancy limits to follow capacity restrictions, with a special emphasis on bottlenecks such as small reception areas
- Maximise syndromic staff screening and provide testing devices (e.g. antigenic tests)
- Reviewing current self-isolation and sick leave policy
- Counselling on governmental benefits due to inability to work due to illness or self-isolation
- Establishing staff vaccination policy
A high rate of vaccine acceptance is essential for the prevention of morbidity and mortality, and for a return to a new normalcy. In particular, given the high transmissibility of recent variants, very high vaccination rates among people eligible for vaccination are critical. Therefore, a vaccination policy, which states that vaccines are recommended but not required, is advisable to protect the health and safety of all. Yet, risks will not be eliminated by vaccination only.
Lastly, practice owners and managers should be mindful of any pandemic-related harassment of an employee by other staff due to the imposed measures. However, there will be a time when mask use is no longer mandated and there may be other procedures or activities that are determined to pose a high risk to or from unvaccinated personnel. It is likely that guidance (e.g. “Vaccinate or mask”) will come from human healthcare facilities once the autumn comes.
Rosie Allister, director of the VetLife Helpline, produced 10 tips to maintain mental health for FVE: FECAVA_FVE_MentalHealth_Well-being_COVID-19_Tips
- FECAVA/ FVE leaflet for companion animal practitioners (English, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, and Slovenian) + many other languages here
- FECAVA/ FVE leaflet for companion animal owners (English, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Portuguese, Slovenian) + many other languages here
- AVMA resource for pet owners,
- AVMA resource for veterinarians,
Italian leaflets produced by FNOVI (for owners, for vets, regarding prescription)
- Spanish Infographic produced by Spanish Veterinary Chamber
- Portuguese protocol for veterinary practices by OMV and APMVEAC
- Important resources:
Want more information, check out these resources: