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COVID-19 Guidelines for Co-Sheltering Environments

Last updated March 29, 2020

This document has been developed by the Co-Sheltering Collaborative to provide guidance for co-sheltering environments during the COVID-19 crisis. These practices have yet to be formally evaluated and are recommended based on Collaborative members’ collective experience and expertise in veterinary public health and homeless services. Understanding of COVID-19 is changing rapidly, so recommendations will be updated frequently.

Download the PDF version of these guidelines here.

Why is it Important to Keep People and Companion Animals Together?

For people experiencing homelessness, the ability to be housed with family members can be an important source of stability. Many people consider their companion animals to be a part of their family. However, due to a general "no pets allowed" rule within social services, people experiencing homelessness are often asked to decide between their companion animals or shelter. We don't believe this is an ultimatum anyone should have to face.  

People experiencing homeless may be at higher risk for exposure to COVID-19 due to the lack of options for self-isolation and social distancing. It is therefore essential at this time that all social services be made available to people experiencing homelessness with companion animals. Especially during this time of uncertainty and fear related to COVID-19, we believe that positive outcomes for people and animals are better achieved by keeping these families intact. 

What is COVID-19 and How is it Transmitted?

COVID-19 is a disease that can cause mild to severe flu-like symptoms in people. The CDC, WHO, and World Organization for Animal Health agree that the disease is currently spread to humans through person-to-person contact. There is currently no evidence of companion animals becoming ill or spreading COVID-19 to people or to other animals. 1 2 3 Based on current evidence, the practice of co-sheltering does not pose any increased risk to shelter staff or residents, but precautions and healthy habits should still be encouraged.

COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets such as saliva or mucus in a cough or sneeze. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e.,a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. As always, careful handwashing, social distancing, and other infection control practices can greatly reduce the chance of spreading any disease. 4

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Animals and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/animals.html.

2 World Health Organization. (2020). Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses.

3 World Organization for Animal Health. (2020). Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). https://www.oie.int/en/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). How It Spreads. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/transmission.html.

Planning for Pets in Shelter Emergency Response

Identify staff members with knowledge of the internal animal care practices, and prepare to cross-train staff about policies and procedures to ensure the ability to provide consistent, appropriate accommodations for those with companion animals in the event of staffing shortages.These staff should serve as the lead for animal-related issues, which can be especially helpful when dealing with the need for clear and consistent communication with animal welfare or other external partners, when needed and to ensure there is consistency in messaging to clients and staff. Consistent with all emergency response messaging, be mindful of language translation issues when communicating to clients about pets.

In preparation for “shelter in place” actions which may be taken by municipalities, organizations should include pet supplies in their shared stockpile of resources.. These items may include food, bowls, bedding, cat litter, toys, and flea medication. Please be mindful that flea medications and dosage varies with species and size of animal. It is recommended that all companion animals are wearing proper identification, and microchipped (with current registration) whenever possible. For a more comprehensive list of items recommended for animals in case of emergency, please review recommendations by the Red Cross, HSUS, or Ready.gov.

Organizations should also develop contingency plans in the event that clients are unable to provide care for an animal companion for any reason, such as a medical emergency. Internal policies should permit the organization to make decisions for animal care if an owner is absent or unable to consent to a care plan. Internal policies should also include updating emergency contacts and compiling necessary documentation to include vaccination records, veterinary provider’s name and contact information, basic behavioral information, feeding and medication schedule, and any other relevant information that could help another person or organization care for the animal. External partnerships can help provide assistance with acquiring pet care supplies as well as off-site services such as boarding or veterinary care.

If clients are not experiencing symptoms of illness consistent with COVID-19, interactions with pets may continue as usual including walking, feeding, and playing. All clients should continue to practice good hygiene during those interactions (e.g., wash hands before and after interacting with animals, as well as before and after handling pet food; regularly clean food and water bowls, bedding materials and toys, and ensure that companion animals are kept well-groomed.) Co-sheltering environments should encourage all staff and clients to practice current recommendations of social distancing of at least 6 feet and take extra precautions to limit or discourage contact with others’ animals at this time.

5 American Red Cross. (n.d.). Pet Disaster Preparedness & Recovery. https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/pet-disaster-preparedness.html

6 Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). Pet Disaster Preparedness. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/pet-disaster-preparedness.

7 Ready.gov. (2019). Pets and Animals. https://www.ready.gov/pets.

Symptomatic Residents Being Sheltered with Their Pets 

Although there is no current evidence of spread from pets to humans, public health authorities’ understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and guidelines change frequently. Out of an abundance of caution, the following is recommended for symptomatic shelter residents with pets.

Clients experiencing symptoms of illness should restrict hugging, kissing, and sharing food with pets; coughing or sneezing on their pets; and allowing animals from different households to mingle. If possible, residents should appoint another individual to care for their animal while experiencing symptoms. If symptomatic residents have a service animal or must care for their own animals, it is important for them to continue to maintain good hygiene and wash their hands before and after touching their companion animals, and wear a facemask whenever possible. 

Should an animal belonging to a client with COVID-19 develop a new or concerning illness, the treating veterinarian may contact a public health veterinarian in accordance with state and CDC guidance. It is recommended that the shelter keep documentation of all clients (with and without animals), in case this information is needed by officials. 

Residents experiencing symptoms who remain on site should be kept physically separate from other residents as much as possible and provided with opportunities to reduce exposure risk of others, including access to a hand washing station, hand sanitizer and face masks, if possible. If animals are typically housed with the resident and cannot be cared for by another individual, accommodations should ensure that there is enough space to crate the animal if confinement is necessary. Please see “Grant Funding Opportunities” below for details related to accessing various COVID-19 animal care resources and grants. 

Working with Animal Welfare and Veterinary Partners for Primary and Emergency Care

Relationships between animal welfare organizations and human social service organizations are essential to linking people in need to programs that can reduce or remove barriers to animal care during any time of crisis. These services may include off-site boarding, temporary foster care, transportation, financial support for routine or emergency veterinary care, pet food banks, educational resources, or behavior and training support. It is recommended that you work on building long-term relationships with these organizations and groups to ensure that you will be able to continue to identify and meet the needs of this population moving forward.

If your organization operates in a location that has “shelter in place” rules in effect, check with your municipality about whether or not veterinary practices qualify as essential services. Veterinary facilities may not be open depending on how they are classified in the order. Due to limited hours and operating capacity of veterinary clinics at this time, it is essential to call ahead and establish a plan with your animal welfare and veterinary partners to ensure that pets will be able to receive the minimum care required for entry to the shelter or off-site boarding facilities if needed, and that there is also a plan in place to address companion animals requiring care for illness or injury. Think broadly and creatively while developing plans due to the additional challenges that may present during a time of crisis. For example, consider developing a relationship with a mobile veterinary provider to bring services to clients on site, or consider infrastructure for telemedicine. Veterinarians may be able to communicate with residents via phone and plan next steps for the pet’s care. 

Grant Funding Opportunities

Grant funding may provide the ability to help cover costs associated with housing and caring for pets when local partnerships are not available or do not fully meet this need. Please reach out to your local and state agencies for other opportunities that may be available, in addition to the organizations listed below.


From PetSmartCharities.org:

“PetSmart Charities is evaluating conditions resulting from COVID-19 (coronavirus), and the best ways we can support our partners, pet parents and the pets they love. If you are an organization that is working within the official COVID-19 response efforts, email emergencyrelief@petsmartcharities.org to inquire about possible grant assistance.”

From GreaterGood.org:

“Currently, we are working diligently in partnership with local, state, and federal partners to address the needs arising from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand your concerns and are empathetic as this is now a national issue. Our GreaterGood.org team is in communication with all of our major corporate donors for pet food & veterinary supplies to gauge availability of product and potential distribution capacity. To better serve you and others, we ask that you please follow this link https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/72a89f573cb04d8793607b428d00e82d and complete the form attached so that we can effectively gather need-to-know information. Our disaster team is constantly assessing and triageing to award areas with the greatest need, and then coordinating with appropriate entities to devise an equitable plan of action.  As plans solidify, we will notify organizations if and where products are available in their area.”

From PetcoFoundation.org:

“We are committed to supporting our shelter partners’ most critical needs through this disaster. Municipal and large organizations with animal control shelter functions can learn more about COVID-19 disaster funding in the Petco Foundation partner portal.” For details, please visit https://www.petcofoundation.org/relief/

From ASPCApro.org

“The ASPCA is inviting grant proposals from animal welfare organizations negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis under the recently announced ASPCA Relief & Recovery Initiative. We recognize that this national emergency may be affecting programs, operations, and fundraising, causing unexpected increases in expenses or declines in revenue. To provide support to counter these challenges,  the ASPCA is accepting grant proposals for general operating or program expenses to help meet budget shortfalls and support essential life-saving services for animals such as safety net, adoptions and foster programs, and veterinary services, which are proving to be crucial animal welfare services in this crisis. A minimum of $2,000,000 is available for grants made under this program.” For details, please visit



From Banfield.com:

“At the Banfield Foundation, we believe all pets deserve access to veterinary care, shelter and disaster relief. During these uncertain times, we remain committed to supporting pets and the people who love them by providing grant funds to those who need it most. In response to COVID-19, we are pausing our current grant programs in order to determine how to best direct funds to those organizations working to keep pets and people together during this crisis. Please stay tuned for more information. Questions?” Contact info@banfieldfoundation.org

From PetfinderFoundation.com

“COVID-19 Operation Grants are available to adoption organizations that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Grant funds can be used to purchase cleaning supplies, food, vaccines, or anything else you may need in order to continue caring for your adoptable pets.” Grants range from $500 - $1000. Please visit https://petfinderfoundation.com/for-shelters/apply-for-a-grant/ for details and to apply.

Pets of the Homeless

  • Sleeping Crate Program: Collapsible crates are ordered online by Pets of The Homeless and shipped to shelters that submit a request to info@petsofthehomeless.org. Please see their website for required information.

  • Pet Food Donation Sites: Please see their website to locate pet food donation sites.

  • Emergency Veterinary Care: Please see their website to connect with a case manager for requests for assistance. Business cards can be provided so social workers have this information readily available to them.

  • Pets of the Homeless will work with shelter managers and pet owners to coordinate for veterinary care as needed (vaccinations or more extensive care as needed, on a case by case basis) in order to immediately access shelter, whether or not the shelter is interested in receiving crates.

From Department of Housing and Urban Development - Emergency Solutions Grant Program:

“Individuals experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of exposure to a variety of infectious diseases including influenza and coronavirus. Taking effective sanitation measures can reduce the spread of infectious disease for people who are unsheltered or living in emergency shelters. ESG Program recipients may use ESG Street Outreach and Emergency Shelter funds for essential supplies and services to reduce the spread of infectious disease in their programs.” Please visit https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/esg/ for details.

Animal Care, Animal Welfare and Veterinary Resources

Animal Welfare Daily Digest: Daily Digest Subscription Link

American Red Cross: Pet Disaster Preparedness

American Pets Alive!: COVID-19 Animal Shelter Preparedness Guide

American Veterinary Medical Association: What Veterinarians Need to Know 

American Veterinary Medical Association: Veterinary practices are “essential businesses”

Best Friends Animal Society: Best Friends Vet Access (remote veterinary service)

Download mobile app using code BFHELPS (free for a limited time)

Best Friends Animal Society: Lifesaving Library (various resources)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC Healthy Pets, Healthy People

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Interim Guidance for Public Health Professionals Managing People With COVID-19 in Home Care and Isolation Who Have Pets or Other Animals

Cornell Cooperative Extension - New York Extension Disaster Education Network: COVID-19 and Service Dogs 

Cornell Cooperative Extension - New York Extension Disaster Education Network: COVID-19 and Dogs 

Humane Society of the United States: Coronavirus (COVID-19) shelter kit

Idexx: Leading Veterinary Diagnostic Company Sees No COVID-19 Cases in Pets

Justice Clearinghouse: COVID-19: What it Means for Animals and Animal Care Professionals (The Corona Virus)

Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida: UPDATED: Important COVID-19 information for animal shelters (various resources)

National Animal Care & Control Association: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Announcements & Resources

National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians: Compendium of Veterinary Standard

Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel

Ready.gov: Pets and Animals

The Humane Society of the United States: Pet Disaster Preparedness

The Humane Society of the United States: Compassion in a time of crisis

World Small Animal Veterinary Association: COVID-19 – Advice and Resources

Facilities, Cleaning and Personal Safety Resources

American Red Cross: Coronavirus Safety

American Red Cross: Steps to Help Protect Against Coronavirus COVID-19

American Red Cross: Steps to Help Cope with Evolving Coronavirus Situation

American Red Cross: What You Should Do If Caring For Someone With Coronavirus 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus (COVID-19)  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Environmental Cleaning Recommendations 

Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida: UPDATED: Important COVID-19 information for animal shelters (various resources)

Homelessness Resources

Homelessness Learning Hub: Pandemic Planning: How Can My Agency Prepare for the Potential Spread of Coronavirus?

National Alliance to End Homelessness: Coronavirus and Homelessness

National Alliance to End Homelessness: COVID-19: What State and Local Leaders Can Do for Homeless Populations

National Low Income Housing Coalition: Coronavirus and Housing/Homelessness (various federal, state and city specific resources)

National Health Care for the Homeless Council: Covid-19 Resources (various resources)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Disease Risks and Homelessness

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: Planning and Preparing for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) (various resources)