There is currently no evidence that domestic animals (pets or farm animals) or Australian wildlife play a role in the spread of the human novel coronavirus disease COVID-19.
It is your responsibility to protect the welfare of any animal in your care at all times. You have a legal obligation to ensure all the animals under your care are provided with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary treatment when necessary. It is an offence under the law to abandon any animal under your care.
Many people are responsible for animals that are not located at their place of residence and are not part of their employment. Also, animal owners still need to access veterinary services or take their animal to a veterinary clinic for treatment. These situations can cause confusion and concern due to the current travel restrictions. You must continue to care for your animals as needed while maintaining social distancing and minimising travel. Current advice about leaving your home to care for animals during the pandemic is available here.
If you normally care for animals not located at your place of residence but are unable to, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care.
There are five possible scenarios you need to prepare for under the current circumstances and you’ll need to consider how to ensure the welfare of farm animals under your care in each of these.
- You are practising social distancing.
- You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection.
- You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19.
- You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19.
- You need to leave your home to care for animals.
You are practising social distancing
To protect each other and our communities, we all need to limit our potential to spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. An important part of reducing this risk is social distancing. To be well prepared at this time:
- If you are (supplementary) feeding your animals, make sure you have several weeks’ supply available.
- Document any medications and instructions, in case you get sick and someone else needs to care for your animals.
- Ensure you have a means of transporting your animals should that be required.
- Ensure your animals’ vaccinations and parasite control are up to date.
- Have a plan in place should you need to self-isolate, contract COVID-19 or need to be hospitalised.
- As always, good hygiene is critical. You should wash your hands before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies. Also ensure animal housing is clean, including feed/water troughs and any bedding in sheds or shelters.
- Practice good on-farm biosecurity (for more information, see farmbiosecurity.com.au).
You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
The health.gov.au website says you must self-isolate if you have COVID-19, or you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or you arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020. In addition, people aged 70 years or older and people who have certain health conditions which put them at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19 are strongly urged to self-isolate. If you are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection, in addition to the general advice provided under social distancing above you should:
- Ring your vet to ask for advice if you are concerned about your animal’s health while you are self-isolating, don’t break your quarantine. Your vet will be able to work with you to ensure your animals receive the care they need while keeping their staff safe from COVID-19 infection.
- Minimise contact with animals other than your own at this time, just in case you might be carrying the virus.
You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19
If you or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, in addition to the general advice provided under social distancing above:
- Sick people should stay away from others (humans and animals). As much as possible, you should stay in a specific “sick room” and away from other people and animals in your home.
- Sick people should avoid or at least restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.
You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19
If you require hospitalisation due to COVID-19, in addition to the general advice provided under social distancing above:
- Your animals will need to be cared for while you are in hospital, so you will need to make sure there are adequate supplies for all your animals – including food and any medications.
- Ensure a trusted family member, friend or associate provides your animals with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter and, when necessary, veterinary treatment.
You need to leave your home to care for animals
If you have been directed to stay at home, if you are self-isolating, if you are sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, or you require hospitalisation, and you normally care for animals not located at your place of residence, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care.
If you are practicing social distancing, you are able to leave your home to purchase essential supplies or services including supplies and services for your animals. Currently, you are also permitted to leave home for work (paid or voluntary) if you are unable to perform this work at home; this includes work involving animal care (e.g. veterinary workers, farm workers and horse industry workers).
Many people are responsible for animals that are not located at their place of residence and are not part of their employment. This includes, but is not limited to, people who agist animals, recreational horse owners and owners of hobby farms. Additionally, during the current pandemic, animal owners still need to access veterinary services or take their animal to a veterinary clinic for treatment.
If you are subject to travel or movement restrictions, you must continue to care for your animals as needed while maintaining social distancing and minimising travel. Current advice about travel restrictions is available here. Where there is no specific statement from your State or Territory government to this effect, if you are stopped by the police, you should explain that you are travelling to fulfil your legal obligation to care for your animal.
Transporting farm animals
Animals farmed for food and the food supply chain are considered essential services. This means that farm animals can be transported across borders, including for veterinary care, despite border restrictions being in place in some States and Territories. Please check specific advice for your State/Territory including any requirements for an entry pass or permit. Specific advice for heavy livestock vehicle operators can be found here.
- Australian Government Department of Health
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800 020 080
- Animal Health Australia
If you are facing challenges caring for your animals, please get in touch with your local RSPCA to discuss options; we are here to offer support and help if possible.
There are some simple but important steps you can take to ensure the health and safety of your own pets and neighbours’ pets in the case of an emergency. We have prepared these interactive PDFs to help you prepare your emergency plan for your animals:
- Emergency Animal Authorisation Form
- Emergency Animal Preparedness Plan
- We also have “Animals Inside Cards” for you to print and fill out and put on your doors/windows to alert first responders that you have animal(s) in your home needing assistance in case of emergency.
The Pet Emergency Plan initiative is funded by the Natural Disaster Resilience Program, and has been developed by RSPCA South Australia in partnership with the Commonwealth and State Government of South Australia.
Please note that there are many things that are currently unknown about this virus and the risk it poses to animals and from animals to humans. This information has been prepared with the best and most current information available at the time but things are changing rapidly as the situation evolves.