This tip sheet is for employers, workers, and volunteers in veterinary or animal service settings including veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, animal shelters, pet groomers, pet shops, pet boarding, etc. It provides an overview of potential hazards and risks due to COVID-19 and guidance regarding control measures.
COVID-19 is a contagious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Infected individuals can spread the virus through respiratory particles when they cough, sneeze, breathe, etc. People can become infected when they inhale particles that contain the virus or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their face with unwashed hands.
Specific Tips for Veterinary and Other Animal Services
Communicate to all workers, visitors, and clients through posters at entrances or by phone that people who are sick (or may be sick) with COVID-19 should not enter the workplace.
Require that all workers continuously self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. If symptoms are reported, ask the worker to isolate according to their local public health authority isolation requirements.
As workers’ exposure risk increases (e.g., caring for a COVID-19 positive animal), adjust control measures as appropriate. Consider modifying procedures and protective equipment requirements (e.g., replacing medical masks with respirators, performing additional cleaning and disinfecting, decreasing person to person contact, etc.).
Conduct group training and meetings virtually, outdoors, or in well-ventilated indoor spaces with participants spaced out, whenever possible.
Implement measures that promote physical distancing and reduce indoor crowds:
Remind workers to maximize the distance between themselves and others (e.g., during training sessions, meetings, during animal examinations, etc.). If possible, they should maximize their distance from animals as well.
Stagger meal and break times.
Rearrange (or remove) furniture in waiting rooms, exam rooms, boarding areas, and animal drop off areas to create more space.
Have workers work at only one location, if possible.
Considerations during close contact interactions between people:
For additional protection have workers and visitors wear a respirator or mask whenever they cannot maintain physical distancing.
Recommend that workers wash or sanitize their hands after every close contact.
Install sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic areas (e.g., main entrance, examination rooms, side or pet entrances, break rooms, etc.).
Consider limiting the use of equipment (e.g., computers, veterinary and medical equipment, vehicles, etc.) to one worker, especially when it is difficult to clean and disinfect. If equipment must be shared, clean and disinfect it between users. Make sure workers are trained on proper cleaning techniques.
Reduce the amount of paper documentation or other items being exchanged between workers. Consider exchanging documents electronically. If this exchange cannot be avoided, wash or sanitize hands after handling items.
Remove magazines, newspapers, and other shared items from common areas.
COVID-19 can infect some domesticated, farmed, and wild animals. Visit the Animals and COVID-19 (PHAC) website for more information. PHAC has determined that transmission from animal-to-human is very uncommon and that the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 from an animal is very low for most people.
Minks have transmitted the COVID-19 virus to humans while other animals such as hamsters, cats (domestic and captive/zoo) and white-tailed deer may have in isolated cases. Mink farmers should follow guidance on preventing and managing COVID-19 outbreaks on their farms. Dogs have not been noted as spreading the COVID-19 virus. Cats can spread COVID-19 to other cats.
As a precaution, provide animals from different households which are staying in the clinic with separate bedding, toys, food and water dishes, and other care supplies and tools.
Do not allow pet bedding and clothing, leashes, leads, harnesses, food and water dishes, grooming tools, or toys from the client’s household to be stored at the clinic.
Clean and disinfect areas where COVID-19 positive animals are (or were) housed using methods that do not kick up dust or overspray into the air (e.g., pressure washer). Soak the surfaces with a cleaning solution and wipe them dry with a cloth.
COVID-19 positive animal bedding, blankets and toys should be sealed in a bag before being transported to the laundry and cleaning facility. Keep the bag sealed until the contents are loaded into the washing machine and washed using the warmest appropriate temperature and detergent (or hand washed for the toys). Keep clean bedding, blankets, and toys separate from soiled ones.
Clean and disinfect any accumulation of organic materials (e.g., dirt, water, blood, urine, feces, vomit, fur, hair) as they can contain and transport the virus across surfaces and into the air.
Clean and disinfect vehicles used for animal transport after every trip. Focus on all high-touch surfaces (e.g., door handles, windows, restraints, etc.). Set vehicle ventilation to outside air and consider keeping windows open, maximize the distance between passengers (while inside and getting on and off the vehicle) and transport one animal at a time, if possible. Consider requiring masks for all passengers and drivers.
If any person or animal in the transport is known to have COVID-19, ventilate the vehicle before cleaning and disinfecting and wear additional personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, gown, eye protection, etc.) while cleaning.
While veterinary operations already follow strict cleaning and disinfection protocols (e.g., in surgical suites, examination rooms, and kennels), existing infection control programs should be expanded to include high-touch surfaces and objects throughout the workplace.
Make sure all cleaning products and detergents are both animal-safe and effective against COVID-19.
If an animal has COVID-19 symptoms, is from a COVID-19 positive household, or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19:
Intake of sick or exposed animals should be avoided when possible. Reschedule the appointment if delay will not threaten the health and welfare of the animal.
If intake is necessary, assess the degree of risk to workers and other animals at the clinic. Determine the appropriate precautionary measures on a case-by-case basis. Consider how workers and other animals can be affected.
Use appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and personal protective equipment (e.g., lab coat, gloves, respirator or mask, and eye protection) when interacting with the animal.
Minimize the animals’ direct contact with people and other animals. Isolate them in a separate designated area with its own air supply, if possible.
If a client is COVID-19 positive or in isolation/quarantine and has concerns about transmitting COVID-19 to their companion animal(s), provide the following advice:
Recommend they wear a respirator or mask when they are with the animal.
Avoid close contact with their animal (e.g., petting, cuddling, kisses and licks, sharing food, sleeping in the same bed) for the duration of their illness or quarantine period.
Perform hand hygiene before and after handling, caring for their animal, or touching their food and supplies.
If possible, have another person in the household who is not sick care for the animal.
Take into consideration the comfort that a companion animal can provide to their owner while they are ill or isolating. It is not necessary to remove the animal from the household or surrender it to a shelter.
Do not allow the animal to interact with other animals or people outside of the immediate household, for at least 14 days after the animal’s last exposure to the human case.
Before providing on-site veterinary services, contact the homeowner, or farm or stable managers. Agree on which COVID- 19 precautions will be followed during the visit. Minimize the number of people and animals you come into contact with, while still maintaining animal handling safety.
If your service normally handles multiple animals from different households at the same time (e.g., group dog walking) consider booking separate time slots for each household.
Pick up animals at the door instead of entering the building.
In-home services may need to be modified or temporarily suspended, if local public health gathering and occupancy limits are in effect.
Stock service vehicles with extra supplies (soap and disinfectant, paper towels, hand sanitizer, fresh masks and gloves). Air out the vehicle, clean and disinfect surfaces, perform hand hygiene, and change your PPE and mask between each client to reduce the chance of transmission between different households.
Discuss infection control and isolation or quarantine measures with transportation services when shipping or receiving large numbers of animals (e.g., pet trade, rescue organizations, or livestock).
Consider the Risks
The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased when individuals are exposed to several risks at once, such as:
When person-to-person interactions are longer and more frequent.
In crowded spaces, especially when people cough, sneeze, or exhale forcefully.
In poorly ventilated spaces with other people.
When people have inadequate hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, or do not have access to cleaning facilities and products.
When shared surfaces and objects are touched frequently.
When community COVID-19 hospitalizations or cases are high or increasing.
When sick individuals are allowed to stay in the workplace.
When individuals are exposed to several risks at once.
When other risks are high and workplace health measures are relaxed (e.g., dropping indoor mask wearing requirements, requiring all workers to return to the workplace, etc.).
Consider all possible COVID-19 exposure scenarios in your setting and perform COVID-19 risk assessments. Develop or use an existing risk assessment form to document and evaluate all work setting characteristics, activities, and job roles. It is good practice to review your assessment on a regular basis to make sure your control methods are effective.
Sample questions to ask during a COVID-19 risk assessment:
Are indoor spaces properly ventilated?
Where do individuals gather?
What activities require interactions, communication, or touching shared objects?
How long, frequent, and physically close are interactions between people?
Are people able to maintain adequate physical distance from each other?
Which workers are at higher risk?
What are the high-touch surfaces and shared objects?
Do individuals normally participate in activities that create respiratory droplets (e.g., singing, shouting, etc.).
Are people expected to stay in an enclosed space for an extended duration?
Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible in the circumstances to protect the workers and ensure the health and safety the workplace.
To provide the highest level of protection to workers, use multiple public health measures and workplace controls in a layered approach. No single measure is completely effective alone. Be careful not to create new hazards or negatively impact existing safety controls. Review and adjust measures as necessary in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative.
Create and implement a written workplace COVID-19 safety plan supported by the risk assessment. A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. Refer to local authorities for details on what must be included in the plan, if it needs to be posted, etc.
Implement policies and programs to accommodate workers, particularly those who are at high risk of severe disease or outcomes (i.e., immunocompromised, have chronic medical conditions, or are older) from a COVID-19 infection.
Communication and Training
Communicate new and updated workplace controls and applicable public health measures to all workers in languages they understand. Specific training requirements and recommendations may vary depending on your jurisdiction. Allow workers the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns. Respond to questions and provide feedback within a reasonable time.
Train workers on COVID-19 specific topics such as:
Screening: keeping individuals who may be infected with COVID-19 out of the workplace.
Contact tracing: identifying and notifying people exposed to the virus and offering advice.
Screen individuals who enter the workplace, if required by your local jurisdiction. Consider having a screening program even when it is not required as an additional measure to protect your workers.
Determine which type of screening your worksite requires: passive or active.
Passive screening requires individuals to self-monitor and self-report possible illness or exposure to COVID-19.
Active screening requires individuals to respond to questions about signs or symptoms of infection, recent possible
COVID-19 exposures, or recent travel outside of Canada.
Allow individuals that pass the screening to access the workplace. Deny access to anyone who does not pass the screening.
Have workers who do not pass the screening contact their supervisor. The supervisor should instruct them to return (or stay) home and follow local public health guidance which may include isolation, testing for COVID-19, or contacting their healthcare provider or public health authority.
Determine if you are required to implement contact tracing. If so, maintain a list of all individuals (for which contact tracing applies) entering the workplace, including their names, contact information, and time spent in the workplace. This information should be provided to the local public health authority if requested for the purpose of contact tracing. All information must be safely stored and destroyed as required by privacy legislation.
For additional information on screening and contact tracing, refer to:
Ventilate indoor spaces appropriately according to the number of occupants and types of activities.
Open windows and doors to the outside, if possible.
Maintain ventilation systems and seek advice from a ventilation specialist on possible improvements (e.g., increasing air exchanges per hour, reducing or eliminating recirculated air, or upgrading to air filtration and disinfection).
If possible, run ventilation systems continuously or for two hours before and after buildings are occupied.
Run local exhaust fans that vent to the outside to help remove contaminated air.
Make sure that air circulation or cooling fans do not direct air flow from person to person.
If ventilation cannot be improved, consider using portable air filtration units with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters.
Keep indoor humidity between 30% and 50%.
For additional information on indoor ventilation, refer to:
PPE includes such items as respirators, medical masks, eye protection, gloves, and safety footwear.
Eye protection (safety glasses, goggles, or face shields) may be worn in addition to a mask when in close physical contact with others. Note: face shields do not provide respiratory protection and cannot replace masks.
COVID-19 PPE policies must not interfere when a higher level of protection is needed for a task.
Workers may need PPE for COVID-19 protection if they are:
Performing tasks that require them to be less than 2 metres from another person.
Using cleaning and disinfecting products (refer to the manufacturers’ safe handling instructions).
Follow the mask wearing requirements of your local jurisdiction. If not required, mask wearing should be encouraged as an additional measure when there is a high risk for COVID-19 spread, or when physical distancing is not possible.
Masks should be comfortable, well-constructed and well-fitting, covering the nose, mouth, and chin.
Consider using masks with a transparent window when communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability, or developmental status).
Allow workers to wear masks, even if not required, based on their discretion (e.g., being at risk of more severe disease, working in crowded setting, etc.).
Immediately have them wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, or if neither is available, a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask). A respirator used in this way (i.e., as source control) may not need to be fit tested.
Have them leave as soon as possible.
If they cannot immediately leave, have them isolate in a designated area, away from others, until they can leave.
Call 911 for medical assistance if symptoms are life threatening. If it is a worker, notify their emergency contact.
Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
Refer to guidance from your local public health authority to determine when the worker can return to work.
Consider updating your sick leave policy to provide support to workers who are or may be sick. Support may include paid or unpaid sick leave, long-term disability, and information on government programs, if available.
Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.