Coronavirus: animal health and welfare advice

08 April 2020

Dairy Livestock

The NFU's animal health and welfare team has set out the key issues affecting animal health and welfare as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19.

Updated 22 April

Government advice: Social distancing in the workplace during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Outdoor businesses

This applies to businesses situated outdoors – market stalls, farms, quarries, commercial forests or other outdoor businesses - where it is not possible for workers to observe social distancing guidelines at all times.

Where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to continue to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.

If a 2 metre distance cannot be maintained, where possible, staff should work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face.

You should communicate to all staff that they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more, and more frequently than normal.

If workers must share enclosed spaces such as the cabs of vehicles, they should keep the window open for ventilation and avoid touching their face. On leaving the enclosed space, they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more, or use hand sanitiser when they cannot wash their hands.

If customer-facing, you should consider how you can safely sell your products or services without encouraging crowds and ensure hygiene measures are in place. This could be done by taking orders online or by telephone in advance, and pre-packing orders to limit face-to-face time, or considering delivery services if possible. When interacting with customers, you should maintain a 2 metre distance as much as possible.

To protect your staff, you should remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating.

Farming: Visiting farms for animal health and welfare

Farming and maintaining animal welfare are important and can continue if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible.

If you provide services such as sheep shearing, sheep dipping and foot trimming to different farms it may not possible for workers to stay 2 metres apart at all times.

You should communicate to all staff that they should wash their hands for 20 seconds or more, and more frequently than normal, and always when arriving at or leaving a farm or premises, or use hand sanitiser when they cannot wash their hands. They should avoid touching their face at all times.

You should arrange work so that you and colleagues can frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products. This should be done both during the working day and when moving between premises.

Update: 8 April

VMD announce temporary changes to the retail supply of veterinary medicines

In light of the enhanced precautions on social distancing we must take as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has relaxed the enforcement of specific provisions of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations (VMR) to allow veterinary surgeons to delegate the retail supply of veterinary medicines to internet retailers or wholesale dealers for home delivery to the end user.

This decision has immediate effect and will initially last until 30 April when they will review it.

The VMD will not issue an improvement notice if there are breaches of the relevant provisions of paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 of the VMR during this period. For further information read the statement from the VMD (PDF, 830KB, 2 pages).

This is a temporary VMD enforcement policy in relation to specific obligations under the VMR only. The VMR continue to apply. The VMD may continue to take action to enforce those obligations in cases where the procedures described in the statement are not followed.

These changes do not affect the existing provisions that allow a veterinary surgeon in exceptional circumstances, for example for animal welfare reasons, to instruct a Wholesale Dealer Authorisation holder to deliver medicines to the client’s premises.

Clarification from the BVA about cats and COVID-19

The British Veterinary Association has clarified its position in light of a report on the BBC news website relating to cats and coronavirus. The BBC’s headline of the article suggested that veterinary advice was to keep all cats indoors, but BVA has explained this advice is only in relation to cats in infected households or where people are self-isolating. Further information can be found on the BVA website.

Update: 6 April

Biosecurity and C&D on farm – joint advice from NFU, BVA and BCVA

The NFU, BVA and BCVA are working together to provide some advice on what can be done on farm to protect farmers, their families and staff and any essential visitors, including vets, from COVID-19.

There are 2 documents available to NFU members: one summarises and talks about the transmission of COVID-19 and any cleansing and disinfection protocols as well as providing a bit of advice about minimising human to human interaction as much as possible during necessary tasks; the second document is an example of a C&D checklist which farmers can use around high contact /’busy’ areas of the farm to remind and demonstrate high standards of surface cleaning.

These will be updated as more content is added to it – it would be great as well if members could send in any examples from their farms of innovative ways to keep social distancing part of the farming routines.

Update: 3 April

TB Hub updates 

Following on from previous emails, publicising the advice published on the TB Hub website regarding guidance on statutory TB testing of cattle herds in GB during the COVID-19 pandemic, further updates have been made to the TB Hub with dedicated pages covering: 

  • Statutory TB testing of cattle herds in GB during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • TB licensing in England and Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Management of TB breakdowns in GB during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The information can be found on the TB Hub here.

APHA updated guidance

APHA has updated guidance regarding COVID-19, primarily relating to companion animals and small animal veterinary practices. 

The below pointers, taken from the 1 April update APHA Briefing Note 10/20: Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19, offer some clarity on some frequently asked questions surrounding COVID-19 and animals: 

  • There is no evidence of COVID-19 circulating in pets or other animals in the UK. There is nothing to suggest pets may transmit the disease to humans.   
  • Pets could be a carrier (fomite) of the virus on their fur for short periods of time, just as other surfaces can carry the virus from one place to another.  
  • In line with the general advice on COVID-19, you should wash your hands regularly including before and after you come into contact with animals and pets. 

Click here to read the briefing in full

Goat Veterinary Society (GVS) statement about COVID-19 and disbudding kids 

Delaying the disbudding of goat kids could lead to welfare problems. The GVS has issued the following statement to goat vets:

“During these unprecedented times the GVS is aware of the difficult position veterinary surgeons may find themselves in when asked to disbud goat kids. The GVS fully accepts and wishes to promote the government's stance on social distancing and the current lockdown, but would like to add that goat kids are very different from cattle and it may be that delaying disbudding of goat kids could lead to particular health and safety / compromised welfare situations in the future, particularly in the large dairy environments.

The GVS would reiterate the RCVS and BVA guidance that it is ultimately the individual practitioner's professional judgement of the on the ground situation that should be followed and taking all factors into consideration. Where the veterinary surgeon believes there is a welfare need and is confident he/she can carry out the procedure without putting others at risk then the GVS would support continued disbudding, but at all times the bigger human health / public health emergency trumps our animal management tasks.” 

The NFU recommends that any members with goats contact their vets to discuss if this is an issue of concern.  

Message from the TB Advisory Service

The TB Advisory Service has issued the following message via its Twitter account @TB_Advisory:

“The TBAS has suspended visits in line with COVID-19 government guidance but they are still on the end of the phone or email for TB biosecurity, less risky trading and business resilience advice.” For contact details please visit the website

Click here to use the NFU's COVID-19 business impact service.

By using this form, farmers and growers can provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. The service is for all farmers and growers across the UK.

Update: 2 April

APHA have updated the TB hub to include a new section on management of a bTB breakdown.

The two key updates are: 

  • APHA have temporarily suspended DRF visits to farms until further notice and instead will be conducting these disease report forms through the telephone.
  • APHA have consolidated the processing of TB reactor cattle to three slaughterhouses in England and Wales, in order to ensure the most efficient use of slaughterhouse staff and PPE.

For further information please see the TB Hub.

BCVA has produced COVID-19 guidance for affiliated industries  

BCVA has created a guidance sheet for colleagues working in affiliated farming industries.

The document, which can be downloaded below, offers advice about on-farm visits and interactions between those working together during the COVID-19 restrictions. The advice includes what to do before and during a farm visit, and general ‘best-practice’ guidelines, to maximise everybody’s safety at this time.  

Read more and download the guidance sheet on the BCVA website 

VMD Export Certificates being issued electronically 

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate will only be issuing export certificates electronically via email until further notice. 

BVD lab testing update 

Due to COVID-19 and in line with Government advice, to keep all staff safe, lab staffing levels have been much reduced.

APHA, SRUC and others are therefore currently prioritising statutory disease testing. They are asking that routine samples are not submitted at this time, with priority given to samples concerned with statutory disease, animal welfare, serious disease outbreaks, potential food safety incidents and potential new or emerging diseases.  

Other samples that are submitted may have prolonged turnaround times and may not get tested at all, depending on how staffing levels are affected by disease or further precautionary measures. 

SRUC are regularly updating COVID-19 information to clients. 

BVD ‘Stamp It Out’ has paused delivery due to current restrictions, and BVD Free has stated that they would support an application to Defra to extend the scheme to account for time lost this year. 

Update: 1 April

Agricultural retail stores

Agricultural retail stores are exempt from closure for the delivery of products and services that are important for animal health and welfare. 

Following the government announcement for retail shops to close, there were several exemptions that included pet shops and veterinary surgeons. Unfortunately, this exemption did not apply to agricultural retail shops.  

Lobbying action from NFU and the Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA) has resulted in this exemption being lifted for very specific purposes. These stores are now exempt from closure for the delivery of products and services that are important for animal health and welfare, not for general trade. 

It should be noted that any business that is trading should follow the latest government guidelines to ensure that staff and members of the public are kept as safe as possible. AHDA suggests that any orders are taken by phone, email or by post. Any animal health products should then either be delivered or collected through a safe collection point. 

Relaxation of SQP prescribing 

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) regulations for SQP prescribing are still in place and will not be changed. However, the VMD has taken a view that they are relaxing the enforcement process during the COVID-19 outbreak. This would allow SQPs to prescribe and authorise remotely, if the situation arises.  

AHDA have posted a statement from the VMD on their website - click here to read it.

Effective immediately, in view of the unique challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the VMD will adopt the approach set out below to the enforcement of the above requirements until 30 April 2020 – and given the current uncertainties, this date may be amended by further notice from time to time. In practice, this means that during the current period SQPs will be allowed to prescribe and authorise supply remotely. 

The VMD will not issue an improvement notice in respect of a breach of paragraph 14(4) and (5) of Schedule 3 to the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 (VMR) during this period, in cases where the following procedures are observed. 

The SQP is still responsible for the prescription and supply and therefore must: 

  • Be the person that has the conversation/consultation with the animal owner; 
  • Be the person that makes the prescribing decision; 
  • Be satisfied that the person handing over or dispatching the prescribed product is competent to do so. 

Update: 31 March

TB testing – updated information on the TB Hub

Defra have made a number of new announcements surrounding COVID-19 and bTB. The TB hub is still being utilised as the main channel to communicate changes out to the farming industry, supported through our own NFU communications channels. 

Please continue to refer to the TB Hub. Click here to go to the TB Hub.

TB and COVID-19 updates

The NFU is in regular communication with the Defra TB team, so please refer bTB questions or particular concerns back to NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458, your County Adviser or email QW5pbWFsSGVhbHRoQG5mdS5vcmcudWs=.

There are a huge number of wider workstreams within the NFU surrounding COVID-19, from supply chain impacts to public rights of way. If you haven’t already, please visit the coronavirus news channel at NFUonline for more information

Update: 30 March

BVA advice to veterinary surgeons 

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has updated its advice to veterinary surgeons about prioritising work. This advice will continue to be reviewed. 

Vets attending farms are being reminded: 

  • Maintain a physical distance of 2m at all times.
  • In cases where clients are self-isolating or confirmed to have COVID-19 a second member of practice staff should attend to ensure your health and safety. Contact with the client should be by telephone only.
  • Cleanse all surfaces in your car on leaving the farm.
  • Do not enter the farmhouse for any reason.
  • Follow the most up to date government advice on statutory surveillance and bovine TB testing from APHA covering Great Britain and DAERA in Northern Ireland.

Any routine veterinary work which does not directly impact on maintaining the food chain, or that is required in accordance with latest government advice on statutory surveillance and TB testing is being suspended or delayed, and a triage system has been provided for other farm animal veterinary work.  

Farmers and livestock keepers should contact their veterinary surgeons in the first instance if they are concerned about the health and welfare of an animal.  

Advice for pet owners and livestock keepers

Defra has issued some advice for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of their animals during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dog owner: Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 days as a household 

If your dog cannot exercise at home, you should ask someone outside of your household to walk your dog for you. 

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you must phone the vet to arrange the best approach to meet your pets’ needs. 

Dog owner: Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus 

You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with walking your dog. In doing so, it is important that you minimise the time spent outside of the home and remain 2 metres away from anyone outside of your household. 

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you may take them, but must remember to wash your hands and remain 2 metres away from anyone outside your household. You must call the vet before going to see them. 

Advice for those walking dogs on behalf of someone else 

You may also leave your house to provide care or help a vulnerable person. This includes walking a dog for someone who is unable to leave their house because they are self isolating or being shielded. You should remember to wash your hands before and after handling the dog and keep 2 metres away from other people and animals, including when handing over the dog to the owner. 

Cat owners: General advice for all cat owners 

You should wash your hands before and after any contact with your cat. 

Horses, livestock and other animals: Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 as a household 

If you have a horse in livery, you must not visit them whilst you are self-isolating. You should contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements. 

If you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, or any other types of livestock you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals. 

Where this is not possible you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met. You must make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you remain 2 metres away from other people. 

If you are too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) or your local authority. 

Horses, livestock and other animals: Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus 

You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with leaving your house to provide care for your horse or livestock. 

It is essential that you minimise the time spent outside of the home and remain 2 metres away from others. You should remember to wash your hands before and after contact with any animals. 

If your horse needs urgent attention from a farrier 

If your horse requires urgent attention from a farrier, you should phone the farrier to arrange the best approach to meet your horses’ needs. You and the farrier must ensure that you keep 2 metres apart and wash your hands before and after contact with the horse. 

Update: 27 March

APHA disease surveillance and carcase submission

APHA is taking all reasonable preventative measures in view of the current COVID-19 situation and has contingency plans in place to manage services across the network during the outbreak. 

APHA is currently continuing to provide a diagnostic service for livestock through carcases submitted for post mortem examination and from samples submitted by post for diagnostic testing and you should continue to contact your local site as directed by the postcode finder.

The contingency plans enable continued provision of post mortem services across APHA’s network of Veterinary Investigation Centres and partner providers. 

In the event of a post mortem site (either APHA Veterinary Investigation Centre or partner provider sites) being unable to receive carcase material due to staff being unavailable, APHA are planning to make arrangements to transport carcases to an alternative site using the free carcase collection service. 

Any alternative site would be selected based on logistics, available resource and following consultation with all concerned. 

Although all effort will be made to assist in some cases there may be situations where this may not be possible and is all dependent on the rapidly changing situation. 

Please report any concerns in the first instance to the SIU mailbox at: U0lVQGFwaGEuZ292LnVr Relevant staff will then be consulted and a response given ASAP.

Update: 26 March

BCVA updated advice

Vets have received updated guidance from the RCVS which states that, as vets, they can feel justified in attending those animals in need of emergency treatment, or urgent assessment and treatment to prevent further deterioration.  

The updated statement from the RCVS recognises the role that farm vets have in the provision of future food security. They are permitted to undertake routine treatments, but only where they are essential to maintaining the future food supply, and only where safe to do so under the current social distancing recommendations.

Updated advice from the RCVS is available on the Coronavirus advice pages on the RCVS website.

TB testing – APHA update

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has added some further clarification with regards to TB testing. These changes are explained in the briefing note 08/20. Read the APHA briefing note here.

In summary, TB testing should only be carried out where it is safe to do so, maintaining a 2-metre distance between vet and farm staff, and between farm staff who do not live together. If it cannot be carried out safely, due to handling systems and/or the stock to be tested, it should be postponed.  

If a whole test cannot be carried out due to an inability to test safely, there is an option to delay the window ONCE to allow either social restrictions to be lifted, or alternative handling to be implemented.  

In short, there will be no financial penalties in Basic Payment Schemes or herd restrictions placed on OTF herds for delaying a test, if it is within the revised testing window. The testing window extensions depends on the type of test concerned. Those tests with a 3 month window will be delayed for an additional 2 months, and those with an initial testing window of 2 months, will be extended by a month. For breakdown testing, herds will be permitted to extend testing up to 120 days after reactor removal.  

BCVA have stated that they are working to clarify a position with AHPA surrounding the ability to split whole TB tests into part tests, to accommodate for certain cohorts of cattle that cannot be safely tested at this time.  

Farmers should speak to their vet before a test is due to discuss their individual situation and ability to test safely. 

The TB Hub is being kept up to date by APHA and has a very comprehensive page dedicated to the COVID-19 requirements and impacts.

RSPCA function during the COVID-19 pandemic

The RSPCA Inspectorate is now on an emergency incident only footing and all of their equine, animal and wildlife centres are closed. 

Further information about caring for companion animals can be found on their website.

A plea for responsible behaviour among purchasers of bagged horse feed

It is apparent that there is some panic buying of bagged horse feed going on amongst equine owners. Whilst this is a worrying time for all animal keepers, the NFU would like to join the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) in requesting animal keepers to only buy what they need in terms of animal feed. This will ensure that all feed mills can operate to optimal levels with minimal delays in turning feed orders around. 

The AIC has reported that: 

  • No reports of any significant shortages of feed or feed materials; 
  • There are some reports of delays in deliveries of feed additives but these being worked on and EU green lane measures will help; 
  • All UK feed mills are up and running and there are no reports of significant delays to deliveries but it is vital that all farmers and other feed customers (equine etc) do not stockpile or panic buy unnecessarily and it is vital to keep in touch with your local supplier regarding your requirements.

Further information will be available on the AIC website.

Update: 25 March

Are vets ‘key workers’?

The government has granted key worker status by veterinary sector rather than profession. Some veterinary work will fall into the ‘key worker’ strategy, some will not.

Vets working in food production from ‘farm to fork’ are considered to be ‘key workers’. This includes:

  • Farm vets
  • Official Vets (OVs) working in the food chain, including abattoir and other related inspection and certification work

The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct stresses the responsibility of the vet to take steps to provide 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief to animals according to their skills. Vet practises will need to continue to carry out this work for as long as this situation lasts.

COVID-19 and animals

According to the OiE, the current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission, and to date, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in vets taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare. Current evidence suggests COVID-19 has an animal source, but this remains under investigation.

Laboratory testing and CHeCS

Most labs will be reducing routine testing in favour of disease outbreak testing. Vets are being advised to contact laboratory providers before submitting samples.

Statement from CHeCS to all CHeCS Health Scheme providers

The following was issued by the CHeCS Executive on 24 March:

‘CHeCS recognise that many farms are not wanting to or are unable to carry out testing at this time, when everyone is trying to follow government guidelines on social distancing, self-isolation etc. Similarly, the CHeCS Health Scheme providers have concerns about their ability to provide a service during this time.

'CHeCS therefore advises that health status will be suspended when testing becomes overdue, but it can be reinstated when the required testing has been carried out, assuming CheCS rules have been complied with and the results are satisfactory. 

'We all recognise that this is not ideal and will have consequences for herd status and trade, however these are unprecedented times.’

Availability of veterinary medicines

The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) have stated that in relation to the availability of veterinary medicines, feedback from the supply chain is positive at the moment and they are working closely with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to monitor this.  

In some respects the pharmaceutical supply chains were ‘battle ready’ following Brexit no-deal preparations. NOAH anticipate some longer term issues but the new EU border crossing green lanes includes veterinary medicines so that should help alleviate supply problems. 

AMTRA (Animal Medicines Training and Regulatory Agency) have issued reminders to the RAMAs (previously known as SQPs) that stockpiling medicines is illegal. AHDA (the RAMA Representative Body) has no evidence that Prescription Only Medicine – Veterinarian, Pharmacist, SQP (POM-VPS) are in short supply.  

If farmers are unable to access their normal veterinary medicines, they should ensure that the prescriber explains the medicine they have been prescribed, how it should be administered, stored, the withdrawal period, any contraindications and provides all the relevant identification for farm assurance requirements.

Coronavirus: Updates and advice

 This news hub on NFUonline will be updated regularly to keep you up to date with what you need to know and how to deal with the various issues raised by coronavirus. Visit the hub.

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