Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on coronavirus for veterinary professionals and the public 

We've collated some of our most frequently asked questions on coronavirus to help you find the information you're looking for. These questions cover guidance for veterinary professionals, advice for students and the most common questions from pet owners and farmers. 

In the workplace

How does the UK Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy affect veterinary practice?

On 11 May the UK Government issued new guidance for the public and businesses on easing the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England in steps: ‘Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy’. In addition, the government published guidance on making workplaces “Covid-19 Secure”.

The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have published separate plans to ease lockdown restrictions in those countries.

As the UK starts to come out of lockdown, we feel now is the right time for veterinary practices to begin transitioning towards providing as full a range of veterinary services as possible whilst continuing to work safely. This transition will take time and must be done in line with legislation and guidance, in the context of safe working practices, and in line with your own clinical and professional judgement and available practice resources.

Our updated guidance replaces previous BVA guidance and includes some of the excellent examples of safe working practices that members have been developing over the last few weeks. It also draws upon the advice and guidance on ‘Covid-19 Secure’ workplaces published by the UK government and developed in consultation with the devolved administrations.

Read the BVA updated guidance for UK veterinary practices on working safely during Covid-19.

How do I minimise client contact?

  • Risk assess all in-person work.
  • Clarify the client’s medical status with regard to Covid-19 before booking any appointments.
  • Advise owners coming into the practice (eg for a euthanasia) on what to expect, including that it may look and feel different to normal due to social distancing measures.
  • Only allow one client per animal, where possible.
  • Consider asking clients, if possible, to wear cloth face coverings when inside the practice.
  • Continue to ask clients to wait outside the consult room and, if necessary, outside the premises.
  • Obtain histories and discuss and agree treatment plans remotely.
  • Use technology to triage and consult whenever possible and appropriate.
  • Consider remote prescribing in line with RCVS guidance (Note: this guidance will be reviewed no later than 30 June).
  • Obtain payment remotely.
  • Ensure contact-free collection of medication is in place, with a specific, secure collection time and place organised in advance.
  • Post medication if appropriate following Post Office guidance and, where applicable, following RCVS controlled drugs guidance.

How do I minimise contact within the team?

All staff who can work from home should continue to work from home at this time. This could include:

  • Administrative staff.
  • Vets and nurses carrying out triage and remote consultations from home, if appropriate. Enabling working from home by people who are self-isolating and those who are clinically vulnerable, if appropriate.

Minimise staff contact in the workplace as much as possible:

  • Stagger arrival, departure, and break times.
  • Reduce congestion, for example, by having more and separate entry and exit points to the workplace.
  • Work in consistent pairs or small teams, if possible, for those who need to work in close proximity, for example, work that involves lifting or restraining animals and surgical procedures.
  • Allocate teams to specific workspaces (such as consult rooms and theatres) and avoid sharing equipment where possible, such as pens, stethoscopes, and otoscopes.
  • Don’t share food and other provisions.

Read the BVA updated guidance for UK veterinary practices on working safely during Covid-19 for further details on re-thinking physical space and layout and working out of vehicles in ambulatory practice.

Do we need to wear face coverings?

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland the government is advising people to consider using cloth face coverings in certain circumstances, for example in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. In Wales, it is considered a matter of personal choice.

Face coverings are not intended to protect the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you are asymptomatic. A cloth face covering is not the same as surgical facemasks used as PPE and supplies of surgical masks must continue to be reserved for those who need it.

Veterinary practices may want to consider the following:

  • asking staff to wear cloth face coverings when not using surgical masks for specific tasks (eg surgery and chemotherapy) – this can help to model good behaviour and is a reminder that we are not working as normal.
  • asking clients to wear cloth face coverings when entering a practice, for example attending a euthanasia. This should be discussed during the triage and appointment booking process.

How can I practise social distancing with the clients that I do see, and with the rest of my team?

There are some general principles that should be adopted across the veterinary sector:

  • There should be no unnecessary client contact. You should:
    • Clarify client’s medical status with regard to Covid-19
    • Obtain histories over the phone
    • Use technology to triage and consult wherever possible
    • Consider remote prescribing in line with RCVS guidance
    • Obtain payment over the phone
    • Ensure contact-free collection of medication is in place, with a specific, secure collection time and place organised in advance
    • Post medication if appropriate following Post Office guidance and, where applicable, following RCVS controlled drugs guidance
  • All staff that can work from home should work from home. This could include:
    • Administrative staff
    • Vets and nurses carrying out triage and remote consultations from home, if appropriate, referring to a physical premises only if absolutely necessary
  • Follow all hand hygiene and biosecurity measures and thoroughly clean all equipment after each use
  • Follow RCVS Knowledge PPE advice – view and download all their resources here

Where social distancing cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, and the activity is essential for animal health and welfare, you should reduce the risk of transmission by:

  • increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
  • keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)

For sector specific guidance please see our guidance for veterinary practices in providing essential veterinary care during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Download the FECAVA advice for companion animal practitioners and pet owners

Do we need to wear face coverings?

The wearing of a face covering is optional, but veterinary practices may want to consider the following:

  • asking staff to wear cloth face coverings when not using surgical masks for specific tasks (eg surgery and chemotherapy) – this helps to model good behaviour and is a reminder that we are not working as normal
  • asking clients to wear cloth face coverings if it is essential that they enter the practice – this should be discussed during the triage and appointment booking process

See also “As a vet practising in Scotland, should I be wearing a facial covering at work?” below.

As a vet practising in Wales, how do I comply with the law that says you need to be at least 2m apart at work?

On 4 April, Welsh Government introduced emergency legislation which means all businesses in Wales must legally take all reasonable measures to ensure the 2m rule is maintained between people on their premises whenever work is being carried out. Vets in Wales should make themselves aware of the guidance issued alongside this which explains what can reasonably be expected of employers and businesses.

What should I do if my employer is not following Government ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidance

We are all responsible for slowing the spread of Covid-19. Veterinary practices should only be providing in-person services that are needed to maintain the food supply chain, or which are essential for animal health and welfare or public health, including to relieve pain and suffering.

If you have concerns as to how your employer is implementing these measures, please contact the BVA legal helpline and consult the ACAS specific coronavirus guidance for employers and employees.

How will contact tracing programmes impact on veterinary practices?

Contact tracing programmes across the UK could have a significant impact on the provision of veterinary services. We're urging veterinary professionals to continue working in fixed pairs/small teams and to support neighbouring practices.

The four nations of the UK are launching contact tracing programmes to move from blanket lockdown restrictions to a more targeted approach, in line with strategies to ease lockdown restrictions.

Although slightly different across the UK, each programme will ask those who test positive for Covid-19 to identify people they have been in recent contact with and those people will be contacted and asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Relevant contact appears to be spending more than 15 minutes within 2m of another person or being in direct face-to-face contact (less than 1m) with them. At present, the schemes are voluntary, but may become mandatory at a later stage.

Employees in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions. Further roll out of testing may enable people to return to work sooner that 14 days if they receive a negative test.

Read our statement on contact tracing programmes.

If a person in my team develops Coronavirus symptoms and self-isolates, does the rest of the team need to self-isolate?

No. Only people who share a home with someone who is demonstrating symptoms of Coronavirus are required to self-isolate alongside them. You should ensure that your workplace is implementing the ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidelines and that animals are only seen face-to-face where absolutely necessary.

Read government guidance on self-isolating

How should I approach a case with suspected clinical signs of coronavirus?

The OIE states that there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans, however it is important to emphasise that the virus in pet animals is a rare occurrence. There is no evidence to suggest that animals that have been infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of Covid-19 back to humans. The main mode of transmission remains human-to-human.

If a pet animal is presenting with clinical signs, you should continue to pursue symptomatic treatment for clinical signs as normal and test for common respiratory pathogens .Read the  APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19 in full.

From the small number of cases reported in companion animals, it appears that dogs do not show symptoms, but cats can show clinical signs of the disease. Based on reported cases and knowledge of other Coronaviruses in pet animal species, presenting signs might include fever, malaise, respiratory and/or gastro-intestinal tract problems. There is currently no treatment for the virus itself.

Tests to confirm the virus in companion animals are under development and the first will launch in the UK shortly.

Government advises that private testing should only be considered in animals which meet all four of the following criteria:

  1. The animal is a Felid, Canid or Mustelid.
  2. It is exhibiting a combination of the following clinical signs as determined by a veterinary professional:
    • respiratory infection
    • gastrointestinal infection
    • fever
  3. other common diagnoses have been considered and discounted as determined by a veterinary professional.
  4. the animal has had confirmed contact with a suspect or known human case of COVID-19 within three weeks of developing clinical signs.

Read the APHA Briefing Note 18/20 SARS-CoV-2 in Animals – Case Definition, Testing and International Reporting Obligations

Can I get tested for Covid-19?

As part of the government’s strategy for coronavirus testing, they are testing people who have coronavirus-like symptoms to see if they currently have the virus. Testing is most effective within 3 days of symptoms developing.

 If you’re in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and have any of the symptoms of coronavirus, you can ask for a test through the NHS website.

 If you’re an essential worker in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can apply for priority testing through by following the guidance for essential workers. You can also get tested through this route if you have symptoms of coronavirus and live with an essential worker.

 In Wales critical workers  who are symptomatic also have priority access to testing and can book a slot at a mass drive-through testing centre or mobile testing unit. Full details for testing in Wales can be found here. This includes those involved in the production and supply of food and key public service workers.

How should we provide care for pets from households with confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19?

Government advice is that owners of pets in households with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, who feel their pet may need veterinary treatment, should make contact with the practice first and alert them to the household’s status.

The APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19 sets out that if you’re contacted by a pet owner who is self-isolating or has a confirmed case of Covid-19 you should:

  • In the first instance, provide advice remotely eg. by phone or teleconsult.
  • If the pet needs to visit the surgery, advise the pet owner to get a neighbour or friend from an unaffected household to bring in the animal. The handler should wash their hands before and after handling the pet, and may be able to minimise direct contact with the pet by use of a pet carrier.
  • If the pet need to visit the surgery, you should follow government social distancing guidance and use PPE as per the PHE infection prevention and control guide. You should use the virucidal disinfectants that you currently use around the practice after seeing the animal.

You should read the APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19  in full before seeing a pet from a household with a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19 in person. In England, you should consult the government’s ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidance on working safely in other people’s homes.

How should we provide care for pets from households with owners who are in vulnerable groups?

Some clients may be social distancing to protect their own health, if they have underlying health conditions or are over 70 for example. The APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19 sets out that to support these clients, consider organising collection or posting of medication. A friend or relative may be able to visit the practice with the pet. However, if this is not possible, consider other ways in which you may be able to support the owner and pet such as:

  • Advising the owner to wait in the car outside
  • Visiting at a quiet time of the day
  • Planning consultations with extra time either side
  • Carrying out the consultation without the owner being present with their input via a
  • telephone conversation
  • Organising a home visit (See FAQ on conducting home visits below)
  • Advising the owner to wait in the car outside
  • Visiting at a quiet time of the day
  • Planning consultations with extra time either side
  • Carrying out the consultation without the owner being present with their input via a
  • telephone conversation
  • Organising a home visit (See FAQ on conducting home visits below)

Should we carry on with routine pet vaccinations?

Our guidance now says that following a risk assessment both for animal health and welfare and with regard to Covid-19, primary vaccinations and year 1 boosters in dogs and cats could go ahead due to the increased risk of disease outbreak over a longer period of time. Annual leptospirosis vaccination could potentially go ahead due to the zoonotic risk and following local risk assessment. If additional components of the core vaccine are due at the same time, they could also be administered. In addition, our guidance now says that rabbit vaccinations could go ahead due to the seasonal disease risks. Rabies vaccinations could be carried out if required for certification reasons (for example, repatriation of a family overseas).

These changes do not mean that all vaccinations now have to be, or should be, carried out. Vets must continue to risk assess each case and exercise their clinical and professional judgement.

How will restrictions in veterinary services impact on pet insurance?

Pet insurance members of the Association of Business Insurers (ABI) have agreed to provide support to customers wherever they can to ensure pets receive the care they need. This includes being flexible on policy conditions, in particular the requirement for pets to have up to date vaccinations and regular dental examinations. Read the ABI statement in full: Covid-19 – Pet Insurers agree commitments to reassure Britain's 7.7 million pet insurance customers.

Following the disruption to direct payments, RSA has started to develop a BACS payment platform, which they will be transitioning to permanently in due course. In the interim, veterinary practices are encouraged to share the below details with RSA in anticipation of a move to a BACS payment platform to settle claims. Please send the below details to: [email protected],

  • Name of person at vet providing details
  • Remittance email address
  • Practice administration email address
  • Practice contact telephone
  • Exact payee name for bank account
  • Sort code
  • Account Number
  • Company registered Number
  • Company VAT number
  • Practice Address Line 1
  • Practice Address Line 2
  • Practice Address Line 3
  • Practice County
  • Practice Postcode

Can I still do home visits?

Vets should only be providing services that are needed to maintain the food supply chain, or which are essential for animal health and welfare or public health, including services delivered at the home of a client. Where you consider that essential treatment or care is required in a home setting, strict social distancing should be practised with all members of the household and PPE should be worn to manage the risks associated with environmental contamination eg. on household surfaces.

Before attending a client’s home, you should ask if they, or a member of their household, are currently self-isolating or have tested positive for the virus. If this is the case, emergency care should be sought in a practice setting so that you do not have to enter a household where the virus may be present and there may be increased risk of environmental contamination. A friend or neighbour from an unaffected household should be encouraged to bring in the animal on behalf of the owner, or consider using a member of the practice staff to collect the pet from the household and return it, wearing appropriate PPE and following social distancing guidance.

Read the APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19  for more detailed on guidance if you feel it is essential to carry out a home visit to a household with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 and, in England, consult the government’s ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidance on working safely in other people’s homes.

What about the Canine Health Schemes?

The BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes are suspended until further notice. In line with current government advice, we are not processing any submissions to the Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes and are unable to offer Eye Screening.

  • Veterinary practices have been advised to suspend or delay non-essential services during the lockdown period, including pre-breeding health testing.  
  • The CHS team is unable to provide a scoring/grading service for Hip and Elbow Submissions received prior to lockdown, as our ways of working would not allow staff to follow strict social distancing guidance and carry out this work safely.

This will be kept under review and in line with government announcements.

Will bTB testing continue?

OVs can continue with bTB testing across Great Britain for now, but only if it can be carried out safely under guidance relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. All vets must consider if social distancing can be maintained, and if it cannot the test should not be undertaken. APHA released a TB testing briefing note covering England and Wales and Scotland.

In England and Wales, calves under 180 days old at the start of a routine or targeted herd surveillance TB test can be excluded from skin testing in officially TB free herds if, in the vet’s judgement, they can’t be tested safely in line with social distancing. This temporary amendment will be applied retrospectively to incomplete tests where the final part of the test would have commenced on or after 23 March 2020, and to any qualifying tests from now on until further notice.

For herds in England and Wales whose Officially TB Free status has been suspended (OTFS) or withdrawn (OTFW), a temporary amendment will allow further herd testing to be scheduled even though some or all eligible calves under 180 days old have not been tested. When eligible animals under 180 days old have been excluded from a test due to the requirement to maintain social distancing, the test will be considered a Check test and further Short Interval testing will be scheduled.

In Northern Ireland the default position is that TB testing visits should no longer be carried out. Under exceptional circumstances, tests may continue if they can be done safely in accordance with the public health guidance. From 4 May 2020 calves under 180 days old may be exempt from all bTB herd test types if they cannot be tested safely in accordance with social distancing guidance. This will allow more herd tests to proceed safely.

In Scotland, normal TB testing procedures still apply. If it’s not possible to safely TB test calves whilst maintaining social distancing, the vet must record this on the test chart and the test will be incomplete. If the test is not completed within the testing window, then the whole test will become overdue.

Does tail docking working dogs constitute an essential service?

We do not support tail docking and have long called for a ban on the procedure for all breeds of dogs. Puppies suffer unnecessary pain as a result of docking and are deprived of a vital form of canine expression. Chronic pain can arise from poorly performed docking. We therefore do not consider the tail docking of working dogs to be a service essential to animal health and welfare, unless it is carried out by a veterinary surgeon for therapeutic reasons.  Read our position on tail docking in full.

A local practice is not following the guidance. What should I do?

The most important thing to do is to make sure you and your practice continue to follow the guidance, regardless of the actions taken by others. If you feel comfortable contacting the team at the practice, you should get in touch to politely remind them of the guidance and their professional responsibilities. Direct them towards our Coronavirus advice for veterinary professionals and the RCVS Coronavirus guidance. If you have serious concerns, and as a last resort, you may consider contacting the RCVS via the confidential reporting line for further advice.

Should I be referring clients to allied professions?

Our vision for the vet-led team is a 'hub and spoke' model with the vet at the centre referring clients to appropriately trained and regulated allied professionals such as equine dental technicians, hydrotherapists, behaviourists, physiotherapists etc. Referrals to allied professionals should follow an examination or assessment, and diagnosis by a vet.

In the interests of public health and where the professional judgement of the vet is satisfied, certain aspects of the requirement for an animal to be physically seen by a vet before being referred to an allied professional may need to be modified at this time. However, this does not negate the fact that vet referral is essential and needs to be maintained to protect animal welfare. For example, vets can make use of a remote assessment by phone or teleconsultation prior to referring a patient to an appropriate allied professional.

Allied professionals should take steps to ensure their services are provided in a manner that supports social distancing, including avoiding all unnecessary in-person contact with clients, maintaining a safe physical distance, and ensuring that animals are only seen face-to-face where absolutely necessary.

 

Government support for businesses

What does key worker status mean, and do I qualify?

Parents whose work is critical to the Covid-19 response are considered to be ‘key workers’, which means their children can continue to be taken into school, providing they cannot be cared for safely at home. See government advice on ‘key workers’, and our joint guidance with RCVS, for more information.

What is furloughing and how does it work?

If you cannot maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by Covid-19, you can furlough employees. This means you can apply for a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. As an employer you can choose to fund the differences between this payment and the employee’s salary. This would mean that employees are kept on the payroll, rather than being laid off.

See more on the GOV.UK website about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The scheme is open to all UK employers that had created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on 19 March 2020 and have a UK bank account. You can only claim for furloughed employees that were employed on 19 March 2020 and who were on your PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020. Employers can now claim through the HMRC website.

  • full-time employees
  • part-time employees
  • employees on agency contracts
  • employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts

If you made employees redundant, or they stopped working for you on or after 28 February 2020, you can re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages from the date on which you furloughed them, even if you do not re-employ them until after 19 March 2020.

If your employee is on sick leave or self-isolating, they’ll be able to get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). You cannot claim for employees while they’re getting SSP. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not intended for short-term absences from work due to sickness. If you want to furlough employees for business reasons and they are currently off sick, you are eligible to do so, as with other employees. In these cases, the employee should no longer receive sick pay and would be classified as a furloughed employee.

Furloughed employees retain their right to SSP. This means that furloughed employees who become ill must be paid at least SSP. It is up to employers to decide whether to move these employees onto Statutory Sick Pay or to keep them on furlough, at their furloughed rate. If a furloughed employee who becomes sick is moved onto SSP, employers can no longer claim for the furloughed salary.

Employers are required to pay SSP themselves, although may qualify for a rebate for up to 2 weeks of SSP through the Statutory Sick Pay rebate scheme. If employers keep the sick furloughed employee on the furloughed rate, they remain eligible to claim for these costs through the furloughed scheme. You can claim back from both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Statutory Sick Pay rebate scheme for the same employee but not for the same period of time.

You can claim for furloughed employees who are shielding in line with public health guidance (or need to stay home with someone who is shielding) if they are unable to work from home and you would otherwise have to make them redundant. Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) can be furloughed. For example, employees that need to look after children can be furloughed.

If an employee is furloughed, they can still request and take their holiday in the usual way. Furloughed workers must get their usual pay in full, for any holiday they take. If they are normally entitled to take bank holidays, then this applies during furlough.

 To be eligible for the grant, when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue. Employers can allocate any critical business tasks to staff that are not furloughed. Furloughed employees can engage in training, if the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation. Furloughed workers can work somewhere else if their employment contract allows this. Getting a new job won’t affect their furlough pay.

You can only submit one claim every 3 weeks, which is the minimum length an employee can be furloughed for. Claims can be backdated until the 1 March if applicable, and the scheme will run for at least 3 months. Members can access the legal advice line for further information.

We recognise that in order to make a rota system work, furloughing needs to be more flexible. In addition, if working staff become sick or need to self-isolate because someone in their household has symptoms, practices need to be able to bring back people from furlough. We are calling for greater flexibility on the 3-week furloughing period so that veterinary businesses can manage their rotas and teams.

The scheme will continue in its current form until the end of July and furloughed workers across the UK will continue to receive 80% of their current salary, up to £2,500. On 12 May the Chancellor announced that the scheme will be extended until the end of October but from 1 August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff. More details of how this will work in practice will be announced shortly.

Can I be furloughed if I am a locum or self-employed?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme only covers employees. There is a separate Self-employment Income Support Scheme for the self-employed or members of a partnership. This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. HMRC will pay the grant directly into your bank account, in one instalment.

To qualify you must:

  • have submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19. If you have not submitted, you must do this by 23 April 2020.
  • have traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • be trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19

Your self-employed trading profits must also be less than £50,000 and more than half of your income come from self-employment.

You can check online to see if you are eligible for the grant and make a claim. If you’re unable to claim online you should contact HMRC for help.

Directors who pay themselves a salary and dividends through their own company are not covered by the scheme but if you are paid through PAYE you may be able to get support using the Job Retention Scheme.

The government is also providing the following additional help for the self-employed:

Can I take holidays/ annual leave during this time?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) advises that in most situations, employees and workers should use their paid holiday in their current leave year. This is important because taking holiday helps people:

  • get enough rest
  • keep healthy (physically and mentally)

During the coronavirus outbreak, it may not be possible for staff to take all their holiday entitlement during the current holiday year. Employers should still be encouraging workers and employees to take their paid holiday. Employees and workers should also make requests for paid holiday throughout their holiday year, if possible.

The government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday over a 2-year period. This law applies for any holiday the employee does not take because of coronavirus. Some employers will already have an agreement to carry over paid holiday. This law does not affect any agreements already in place.

If an employee is furloughed, they can still request and take their holiday in the usual way. Furloughed workers must get their usual pay in full, for any holiday they take. If they are normally entitled to take bank holidays, then this also applies during furlough.

What support is there for veterinary businesses?

The government has set out a package of measures to support businesses through this period. There are some different schemes available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Veterinary practices may be able to access:

  • a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for small and medium sized businesses
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

However, we are extremely concerned that the veterinary profession has so far been overlooked in government support packages to businesses as vets are in a unique situation - they must continue to operate to maintain the food supply chain and provide vital care and treatment to animals, but at the same time are experiencing a profound loss of income (in order to comply with strict social distancing measures) and will struggle to cover overheads. A business rates holiday for businesses in England, Scotland and Wales for certain sectors does not apply. We have written to the UK and devolved governments urging that these measures also be applied to veterinary businesses.

Please use our template letter to write to your MP, MSP, AM or MLA and ask that support be extended to veterinary businesses.

What about support for zoos and aquariums?

On 4 May the government launched a £14 million support fund for zoos and aquariums. The Zoo Support Fund is designed to help premises in England that need additional support to maintain the welfare of their animals, and individual grants will be capped at £100,000. Premises in Wales should make applications for support to the Economic Resilience Fund or, where appropriate, the Third Sector Resilience Fund for Wales.

 

Medicines

Can I prescribe without seeing the patient?

Under normal circumstances the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons does not allow veterinary surgeons to prescribe veterinary medicines (POM-Vs) without a physical examination of the animal(s) having first taken place. However, RCVS Council has decided that there should be temporary departure from this position under the current exceptional circumstances. This position will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis and, in any event, no later than 30 June 2020. Read the RCVS announcement. 

What medicines can be posted?

The Post Office provides guidance on what prescription medicines can be sent through the post for medical purposes.

Should my practice be changing veterinary medicines ordering patterns/ stockpiling veterinary medicines?

NOAH and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) are encouraging vets and other prescribers and retailers of veterinary medicines to continue with normal ordering patterns to maintain appropriate and proportionate stocks of veterinary medicines. If this is undertaken, there should be no need for additional stocks.

How can I supply medicines if access to the practice is limited?

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) is temporarily allowing the supply of veterinary medicines by vets from a temporary premises when access to the premises registered with the RCVS is limited or no longer possible. Read the VMD statement. VMD is also temporarily allowing vets to delegate the retail supply of veterinary medicines to internet retailers or wholesale dealers for home delivery to the end user. Read the VMD statement. There has also been a temporary change to the standard guidance on manufacturers of extemporaneous preparations for use under the cascade. This is to allow the supply of extemporaneous product which is made direct to the end user by a third party. Read the VMD statement.

What about VMD inspections?

On-site inspections of veterinary medicines manufacturers, wholesale dealers, veterinary practice premises, SQP retailers, feed businesses and marketing authorisation holders have been postponed until further notice. Where possible remote inspections will be carried out to assess compliance with the UK Veterinary Medicines Regulations. Read the VMD statement.

How should we be storing our controlled drugs?

As a result of the current situation, there has been a reduction in illicit drugs available on the streets, including heroin, crack cocaine etc. Consequently, the police are warning hospitals pharmacies and veterinary practices of the risk posed to them from offenders who are now targeting pharmaceutical drugs instead. You should continue to follow BVA and RCVS guidelines on the storage and supply of controlled drugs. If you find anyone acting suspiciously within or outside your practice, please call 999 or 101.

 

Vulnerable groups

What is ‘shielding’ and am I in a vulnerable group?

Shielding is a measure to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. This means minimising all interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. The government is strongly advising people with serious underlying health conditions which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus to rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe. See government advice on vulnerable groups and shielding.

I’m pregnant. What are the risks and what are my rights?

Pregnant people are in the vulnerable group designated by government and are advised to socially distance themselves and receive Statutory Sick Pay on the production of a fit note. Reg.16 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 imposes a duty on employers to conduct a risk assessment if working conditions could involve risk to a new or expectant mother or their baby. If the assessment reveals any risk to an employee, or their baby, the employer must follow a series of steps to ensure that they are not exposed to the risk or damaged by it. Given that government advice is for pregnant workers to work from home where possible, your employer should take all steps to make this possible.

It may be possible for you to do some work from home, for example triaging calls. BVA members can also speak to the legal advice line, which is a free of charge service available 24/7. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides detailed advice on pregnancy and Covid-19.

 

Students

What do I do about EMS placements?

RCVS Council has agreed to temporarily suspend its requirements for UK veterinary students and veterinary degree programmes around extra-mural studies (EMS). Students should not be undertaking EMS placements at this time. See the RCVS guidance for more information. RCVS has reduced the number of weeks of EMS that final year veterinary students are required to complete to 30 weeks, and have also stated that current 4th year students should not be prevented from graduating providing they have completed their 12 weeks pre-clinical EMS and at least 50% (13 weeks) of clinical EMS, in addition to demonstrating that they have achieved all RCVS Day One Competences.

What work do I give to the student on an EMS placement?

RCVS Council has agreed to temporarily suspend EMS requirements so that students do not have to complete the usual number of weeks. See the RCVS guidance for more information. Many workplaces have suspended EMS placements. However, if workplaces feel able to accommodate EMS placements whilst working safely and in line with social and physical distancing requirements, they may be able to go ahead. For example, enabling students to join remote consultations may be allowed but should be checked with the relevant vet school. If you are hoping to go ahead with an EMS placement, speak to the EMS coordinator at the vet school for further advice.  

How do I fulfil my RVN training requirements?

Veterinary nurse training requirements have also been suspended. See the RCVS webpage for more information.

Will I be able to graduate this year?

On 7 April the RCVS Covid-19 Taskforce agreed that, as veterinary schools may need to introduce alternative assessment methods for their students, particularly final year students, in light of the pandemic and associated restrictions, then they would need to notify the RCVS regarding the nature of the changes, in addition to the quality assurance measures being put in place to ensure standards are not compromised. These changes would then be monitored by the RCVS Primary Qualifications Subcommittee, to ensure they meet with the accreditation standards. See the RCVS guidance for more information. If you have any specific queries on examinations or curriculum requirements, please contact your vet school directly.

What job opportunities are there in the current climate for final year students?

We recognise this is a worrying time for students due to graduate this year and many final year students may be concerned that they won’t be able to find a job in the current climate.

Governments in Great Britain have put out a call to final year vet students to fill vital veterinary public health roles that keep the livestock food chain moving to ensure our safe food supply and to protect animal health and welfare. This could be the beginning of a successful career in public help or within the civil service. There are various opportunities available in England, Scotland and Wales in this important area of work to suit your particular circumstances. Roles include a training, mentoring and further development programme which may allow migration into a full Official Veterinarian role post-graduation.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how your degree can support our whole community during the Covid-19 response, please email [email protected] in England/Wales and [email protected] in Scotland. 

Visit My Vet Future for more content and ideas around veterinary careers, as well as links to job adverts.

We recommend that you don’t take on unpaid or voluntary veterinary work in veterinary practices. While these offers may seem attractive to newly qualified vets who want to gain access to veterinary workplaces, we are concerned that they devalue the individuals involved. If you have completed your studies, you are qualified and should be treated as such. Read our joint statement with AVS.

 

Mental Health

How do I protect my mental wellbeing at this difficult time?

Take a look at the Vetlife website for tips on self-care and read the Vetlife Covid-19 FAQs for the veterinary community. Charities such as Mind also have helpful tips on maintaining positive mental wellbeing. The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative is also offering a range of online wellbeing resources to support the veterinary team.

What do I do if I have a concern about my own, or a colleague’s mental health?

Take a look at the Vetlife website for tips on dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. If you need to speak to someone in confidence Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day, everyday of the year, on 0303 040 2551 or you can send an anonymous email via the website. Support is also available via Vet Support NI and Vet Support Scotland.

 

How you can help

How can I help support the NHS?

Take a look at the Vetlife website for tips on dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. If you need to speak to someone in confidence Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day, everyday of the year, on 0303 040 2551 or you can send an anonymous email via the website. Support is also available via Vet Support NI and Vet Support Scotland.

How can my laboratory or organisation support the Covid-19 NHS testing programme?

The government is calling for help from organisations and sectors with laboratory capability to increase the Covid-19 testing programme in the UK for NHS Trusts and associated pathology services.

Laboratories will need to meet specific criteria in order to partner with NHS Trusts and partially or fully support the testing pathway, including certain data management and IT system criteria. Please read the government guidance in full to assess whether your laboratory or organisation meets the criteria and could help the NHS.

If your laboratory or organisation partially or fully meets this criteria, you should:

  • Approach your NHS Trust to discuss what help you could provide, if you have an existing relationship with them.
  • If you do not have an existing relationship with an NHS Trust, register your interest and make clear what services you may be able to offer through the government online portal.

How can I help support food production?

If you’ve worked as a red or white meat Official Veterinarian or Meat Hygiene Inspector within the last five years, your skills are needed now to support food production during the Covid-19 crisis.  If you think you can help please contact: [email protected] in England/Wales, [email protected] in Scotland, and [email protected] in Northern Ireland. It’s important that we work together to help keep the abattoirs open at this critical time.

If you’re in Scotland, you can also sign up for the Lantra and Scottish Government Skills Matching Service to offer skilled support to farmers who become ill or need to self-isolate, to ensure that their animals are cared for.

Are there any other ways I can help?

The Covid-19 pandemic has raised additional and perhaps unforeseen ethically challenging situations (ECS) for those working in veterinary clinical settings. As part of her PhD study, Anne Fawcett is conducting a survey to determine the frequency, stressfulness and nature of these ethical challenges. The survey is open to veterinarians, animal health technicians and veterinary nurses around the world who are over the age of 18. We estimate that it will take 15-20 minutes to complete. To read the participant information statement and complete the survey, please copy this link and paste into your browser: https://redcap.sydney.edu.au/surveys/?s=KDFEFHCKX3. For further information about this study, contact Anne Fawcett: [email protected]

Animal owners and breeders

Can I still take my animal to the vet?

You must phone your vet to arrange the best approach to meet your pets’ needs. Read Government advice for animal owners in England.

Veterinary practices are remaining open to focus on providing services that are needed to maintain the food supply chain, or which are essential for animal health and welfare or public health, including to relieve pain and suffering.  NB There may be variations across the UK administrations regarding what constitutes “essential” travel. Please consult advice from the relevant authorities: GOV.UK; Scottish Government; Welsh Government; Northern Ireland Executive 

If you are concerned or have any questions about your animal’s health and welfare, you should phone your veterinary practice directly. Your vet will risk assess each case and exercise their clinical and professional judgement to decide whether face-to-face treatment or care is essential at this time, or whether services could be provided remotely.  

Where your animal does have to see the vet for essential care or treatment, please observe strict social distancing measures. Download the FECAVA Infographic for pet owners visiting their vet during the COVID-19 outbreak for some top tips on how to protect yourself and your veterinary practice.

Vets are working hard to balance animal health and welfare, public health, your safety and the safety of their teams. As always, decisions will vary between practices and in different parts of the country.

We’re asking the public to respect their veterinary teams and understand that they are doing their very best in difficult circumstances.

Can my pet contract coronavirus and pass it to humans?

There is currently no definitive evidence that pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners. According to the OIE, the current spread of Covid-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission, and, to date, there is no reason to conclude that companion animals can spread the disease.

From the small number of cases it appears that dogs do not show symptoms, but cats can show clinical signs of the disease. The OIE states that there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Several dogs, domestic cats and one tiger have tested positive for Covid-19 following close contact with infected humans. Studies are currently underway to develop our understanding about how and why the disease is passed to certain species. However, again it is important to recognise that there is no evidence to suggest that pets infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of Covid-19 back to humans.

It is also the case that animals can act as fomites, as the virus could be on their fur for a short period of time, in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs. That’s why our main advice for animal owners continues to be to practise good hand hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds with soap and water) after touching your pet.

Can I still walk my dog?

You can walk your dog providing you do not have Coronavirus symptoms and stay 2 metres away from anyone outside your household.

When walking your dog strict social distancing guidance should be followed, you should keep your dog on a lead in areas where you may come into contact with other people or their dogs, and you should wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water when you return home.

During the pandemic and government restrictions your dog may be getting less exercise than usual, read these top tips from Blue Cross on how to keep your dog mentally stimulated.

How can I walk someone else’s dog safely?

You should only be walking someone else’s dog if, due to their individual circumstances, they are unable to do so themselves. This includes people who are key workers (NHS staff or similar), shielded (at particular risk from Coronavirus) or the vulnerable and over 70s or people from a self-isolating household confirmed or suspected of having Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Read the Canine and Feline Sector Group’s practical advice on how to walk someone else’s dog safely

How should I care for my animal if I have Covid-19, am self-isolating or social distancing?

The OIE recommend that people who are sick with Covid-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus. Read the OIE Questions and answers on the novel Coronavirus in full.

Government advice is that owners of pets in households with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, who think their pet may need veterinary treatment, should make contact with the practice first and alert them to the household’s status. Read the Defra Covid-19 advice for people with animals.

Our advice for pet owners diagnosed with Covid-19 or self-isolating with symptoms is:

  • Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary animal health measure until more information is known about the virus.
  • If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
  • Keep cats indoors if possible, and only if they are happy to be indoors, and try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practise good hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals can pass Covid-19 to humans.
  • If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice and alert them to the household’s status. 
  • If your pet requires essential treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

 

The following useful guidance documents have also been produced for animal owners on how to look after animals during the Covid-19 pandemic:

Can companion animal breeding still go ahead?

In line with government guidance for employers and businesses, breeders that are considered as businesses may continue to operate.  However, we consider that there is no animal welfare justification for the continuation of companion animal breeding at this time. We would therefore advise against breeding companion animals during the lockdown period.

Can puppies and kittens go to their new home during lock down?

Please note: We’re advising against breeding companion animals during the lockdown period. This advice pertains to existing litters or litters already in utero. We consider that there is no animal welfare justification for the continuation of companion animal breeding at this time.

We recognise that there will be litters of puppies and kittens that are ready to be rehomed, or litters already in utero. Given the potential welfare implications if these puppies and kittens were not rehomed, it is appropriate to rehome these animals if they are at least 8 weeks of age and can be viewed remotely with their mother and litter mates.

In line with government advice on social distancing, prospective owners should not visit the litter and the mother in person, instead they should view the puppy/kitten, its mother and litter mates remotely eg. via videocall.

We understand that Defra is advising that prospective pet owners should not be leaving their home to collect their new pets at this time as it is considered as non-essential travel. However, breeders that are considered a business may take puppies or kittens to their new home providing that rehoming can be carried out while practising strict social distancing. Further detail on how breeders can rehome litters safely is available in the CFSG guidance for pet businesses.

Can I get a new pet during lockdown?

As businesses, breeders and pet shops can continue to operate at this time, provided they can do so following social distancing guidance. We understand that Defra is advising that prospective pet owners should not be leaving their home to collect their new pets at this time as it is considered as non-essential travel.

If you’re considering getting a pet at this time, we recommend that you carefully read the Puppy Contract or Kitten Checklist to reflect on whether you can meet their welfare needs beyond lockdown, and that any pet is suitable for your or your family’s lifestyle in the long-term.

During this lockdown period there will be significant restrictions on the ability of prospective owners to provide the best start in life for new pets. The first few months of a pet’s life set the tone for their physical, emotional and behavioural development. However, due to social distancing rules there will be reduced opportunities for socialisation and reduced opportunities for puppies to exercise in public freely.

It’s also important to remember that all non-essential veterinary appointments are being postponed in line with government guidance, so it may not be possible to vaccinate, microchip or neuter a new pet at this time.

It’s therefore vital to carefully consider if you will be able to meet the health, welfare, socialisation and behavioural needs of a new pet, both now and in the future beyond lockdown.

Read the specific guidance for kitten owners and puppy owners. Thanks to Sarah Heath FRCVS, Daniel Mills FRCVS, Lorella Notari MRCVS, and Rachel Casey MRCVS, recognised specialists in behavioural medicine, for producing this guidance.

Read Cats Protection advice on kitten socialisation.

What fees should my practice be charging over this period?

RCVS supporting guidance notes that a veterinary surgeon is entitled to charge a fee for the provision of services. Provision of services includes remote consultation and you should expect to be charged for a consultation with your vet even if it’s provided by phone/video. Fees charged during this period might change to reflect the costs associated with providing an essential service under social distancing requirements. As always, all pricing practices should comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and other consumer protection legislation. Clients should be provided with clear and easy to understand information about how fees are calculated and what is being charged for.

What about Canine Health Schemes?

The BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes are suspended until further notice. In line with current government advice, we are not processing any submissions to the Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes and are unable to offer Eye Screening.

  • Veterinary practices have been advised to suspend or delay non-essential services during the lockdown period, including pre-breeding health testing.  
  • The CHS team is unable to provide a scoring/grading service for Hip and Elbow Submissions received prior to lockdown, as our ways of working would not allow staff to follow strict social distancing guidance and carry out this work safely.

This will be kept under review and in line with government announcements. We are asking all animal owners and breeders to respect their vets’ clinical and professional judgement and be patient during this time.