There are a number of ways you can prepare for COVID-19 self-isolation so you and your pets stay safe.
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.
This article discusses what you should do if you are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection. Information on what you should do if you are sick or suspected of having COVID-19 can be found here.
Current state/territory government requirements for self-isolation when you are feeling completely well vary – some allow you to leave your property for brief periods (such as to go for a walk) provided you practise social distancing. You should check your relevant government website for current mandatory requirements before leaving your property during self-isolation.
There is currently no evidence that companion animals play a role in the spread of this human disease . However, there is some limited evidence that companion animals can be infected with the virus. See this article for more information.
The human-animal bond that people share with their companion animals is very important and can provide much needed support, comfort, and companionship in these difficult times; so if possible people and their companion animals should stay together for their mutual benefit.
Following is some basic advice to help you prepare for COVID-19 self-isolation.
Preparing for self-isolation
- Ideally you will keep your pets with you. See the specific information below for different kinds of animals.
- When you are preparing supplies for a self-isolation period at home, make sure you include a minimum of two weeks’ supplies for your pet, including food and any medications.
- If you cannot get supplies personally, order products online (many retailers are still able to supply essential products) or ask friends, family or neighbours to help, but avoid direct contact with other people (e.g. get them to drop off any supplies outside your gate or door).
- All medications and instructions should be documented (include dosages, method of administration, and how often to give the medication) in case you get sick and someone else needs to care for your animals. Ideally, have a prescription for any medication in case your required isolation period is extended or you get sick and cannot look after your pets for longer than you had planned.
- Ensure that you have appropriate carriers/crates available for all your animals, in case they need to be transported.
- Check that your pet is up to date with their vaccinations, in case it is necessary for your pet to go to a boarding facility or to someone else’s home to be cared for.
- Check that your pets are free of fleas (treat them for fleas if necessary) and that they have been wormed within the last 3 months.
- Ensure that your pet’s microchip contact details are up-to-date and, if possible, they have an external ID tag.
- Make a plan to cover the event that you or someone in your family contracts COVID-19 (see this article for more detailed advice) or should you need to be hospitalised (see this article for more detailed advice). It is important to make these plans in advance, as you will not be able to travel if these situations occur. For example, you would need pre-arrange for someone to transport your animals to where they can be looked after (for example, another home or a boarding facility) because you will not be able to do it yourself.
- Make sure that you have a contact list for the temporary pet carer you have organised in your plan. The contact list should also include your pet’s veterinarian and insurance company, if relevant, and anyone else who might be necessary for your pet’s care.
Once you are in self-isolation
- Animals can be stressed by changes in routine, so if you are working from home or self-isolating try to keep as close to your normal routine as possible, or familiarise your animals with a new routine and stick to it.
- Some animals, especially cats, may find the extra activity and noise with more people constantly at home stressful. Make sure that your animals have places to hide away if they want to and have the things they need easily accessible (for example, food, water, and litter trays).
- If you’re concerned about your pet’s health while you are self-isolating, don’t break your quarantine – ring your vet to ask for advice. They will be able to work with you to ensure your pet receives 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.
- As always, good hygiene is critical. You should wash your hands before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food with animals. Also, regularly wash your pets’ bowls, bedding and toys.
Information for dog owners
You need to think about whether you can manage your dog’s toileting and exercise needs while you are in self-isolation. Specific advice is given for different situations below.
Advice on the health.gov.au website about going outdoors is that, if you live in a private house, it is safe for you to go into your garden or courtyard. If you live in an apartment or are staying in a hotel, it is also safe for you to go into the garden but you should:
- wear a surgical mask to minimise risk to others
- stay 1.5 metres from other people
- move quickly through common areas
The rules on whether you can go for a walk outside your property vary depending on where you are, so check if this is currently allowed in your State/Territory.
If you are able to manage your dog’s toileting and exercise needs while you are in self-isolation
If you are permitted to and you can take your dog out for toileting and exercise while maintaining social distancing in your living situation, that is great and you can continue to do so but you need to take some precautionary steps: keep these outings to a minimum: take your dog out for toileting only when needed and walk them for exercise no more than once a day. You must maintain social distancing at all times and avoid other people, dogs and shared spaces as much as possible.
If you are able to manage your dog’s toileting needs while you are in self-isolation but not exercise them outside your property as normal
If you can take care of your dog’s toileting needs but you just can’t exercise them normally, your dog can still stay at home with you. This is easier if you have a garden, as you can just let your dog out to toilet. There are lots of things you can do to keep your dog happy and active inside your property while you are in self-isolation.
If exercising your dog normally outdoors is not possible, there are many indoor options to provide mental and physical stimulation for your dog and these should be introduced to your self-isolation routine. For example, you can feed your dog with food puzzle toys, do some reward-based training, food treat hide and seek games, and spend plenty of time playing with your dog.
What can I do if I cannot manage my dog’s toileting needs while in self-isolation?
If you cannot take care of your dog’s toileting needs while you are in self-isolation, then you will need to arrange for someone to help with your dog’s care. This will prevent repeated exposure to common areas and/or contact with someone coming to take your dog out to the toilet multiple times a day and, therefore, potential for virus spread.
We all need to take appropriate precautions to reduce the risk of disease spread; an important part of this is social distancing. Think of your dog as needing to practice social distancing like the rest of the family.
You might need to consider having someone else look after your dog while you are in self-isolation if:
- You are not allowed to leave your property due to mandatory requirements where you live, or you are physically unable to take your dog out yourself, or you are in a high-risk category and so should not go out into spaces shared with people outside your immediate household. People considered at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19 include older people and people with certain health conditions. You can read more about this on the health.gov.au website.
- You live in a situation in which you cannot just let your dog out to toilet within your property and so would need to get someone else to take your dog out for you multiple times a day (e.g. you live in an apartment with no private outdoor access or your home does not have a private courtyard or garden).
More frequent movement through common areas such as apartment lifts and corridors etc. increases the number of times you are exposed to potential risk of infection from others and the risk that you might spread infection to others if you have the virus. So these situations should be avoided.
Information for cat owners
- Keeping your cat safe at home will avoid risks to them such as traffic accidents, fights with other cats and injury by dogs. If your cat is injured and requires veterinary treatment, this may put you and veterinary staff at risk of virus spread which could have been avoided.
- So, aim to contain your cat to your house or property – it may not be as difficult as you think. Start by having all the necessary supplies to keep your cat safe and happy at home; for example, litter trays, litter, food and water bowls, feeding toys, regular toys, hiding places, scratching posts etc. Be prepared to spend plenty of time with your cat, enjoying cuddles, play time, and just being together. We have prepared information on keeping your cat safe and happy at home to help you.
- If your cat roams and you cannot contain them to your property even now, make sure they are wearing a collar and tag with your current contact details, and minimise direct physical contact with them.
- Some cats visit houses and people other than their own family for food and/or attention. This is not ideal, particularly at a time like this. If you have a cat other than your own visit you, we advise anyone (whether you are in self-isolation or not) that if the visiting cat has a collar and tag, please do not feed the cat if they look in good condition. If the cat appears hungry, underweight and/or sick, then do consider feeding the cat by leaving food outside and trying to contact the owner or the local vet or animal care organisation if the owner cannot be contacted or there is no collar and tag on the cat.
Information for ferret owners
Ferret owners in quarantine/self-isolation have been advised by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA)  to:
- keep their ferret’s welfare front of mind
- minimise contact with their ferrets; and
- maintain good hand hygiene before and after handling them and their food, food bowls and water bowls.
More information for ferret owners can be found here.
Information for owners of other pets
In general, most pets other than cats and dogs will be contained to your property and good care from you will help to keep them healthy. Our Knowledgebase contains a lot of advice about caring for all kind of pets; more information can be found here.
Please follow the advice in the General information section about having adequate supplies including food and medication available, and a pet care plan in the event you or someone in your family contracts COVID-19 or should you need to be hospitalised.
If you normally gather grass or other vegetation for your pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs, please collect this on your own property to maintain your self-isolation and minimise the risk of virus transmission.
To protect each other and our communities, please act as if you have the virus and limit your potential to spread it – practice social distancing or self-isolate as appropriate to your situation.
In simple terms, think of the people and animals that you are sharing your home with and who you are in contact with as needing to stay isolated within a bubble.
They/you should only have contact with each other to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus to any of you or to anyone else. If one of you is exposed in any way, this will result in all of you being exposed. Similarly, if one of you is infected with the virus and interacts with other people, you risk infecting them and, as a result, anyone they have contact with. So, take extra precautions to protect your family unit of people and pets, and the community.
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.
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.
Please note that there are many things that are currently unknown about this virus and the risk it poses to pets and from pets 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. Our information is updated as often as possible.
- How to work from home with your pets
- Self-isolating? Here’s family & animal welfare-friendly activities to help get you through
 World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020) Information for veterinarians on the novel coronavirus
 Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (2020) Update on report of transmission from human to pet dog in Hong Kong
 World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020) Information for veterinarians on the novel coronavirus
 Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (2020) Practitioner advice regarding COVID-19 and ferrets