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How to Quarantine Your Pet

By Carol McCarthy


The word quarantine might conjure images of plague, with warnings to “keep away” hastily slapped on the homes of the infected. But there are times when your pet needs to be quarantined — that is, kept confined and secluded — for his health and the health of the animals and people around him. Quarantine orders are not common, but when they are given, they should be taken seriously.


Learn more about when, and how to quarantine your pet, below.


What diseases or conditions require a pet to be quarantined?


Suspected exposure to rabies, a fatal virus, is the most common reason that your pet will be ordered under quarantine, says Dr. Mary Labato, an internist at Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals in Massachusetts. Quarantine is a legal requirement, ordered by an animal control officer under the direction of your state, she says.

Other illnesses that can warrant quarantine recommendations from your veterinarian, rather than orders from your local government, include canine or avian influenza, bordetella — commonly known as kennel cough — parvovirus and giardia, Labato, said. These infectious diseases are easily transmitted from animal to animal, which is why it is important to sequester your sick pet. Signs of influenza are similar to those in people: coughing, sneezing, fever, nasal discharge and lethargy. Dogs with bordetella will have a persistent hacking cough; while pets with giardia and parvovirus will have diarrhea and vomiting (although not all pets with giardia show clinical signs and can appear completely healthy while being infected).


How does a rabies quarantine work?


If you discover a bite or suspicious wound on your pet, even if he has been vaccinated against rabies, your veterinarian will inform animal control, and your pet will be quarantined, Labato says.


“If a dog or cat has a wound of unknown origin, veterinarians consider the possibility that another animal infected with rabies could have made the wound and transmitted rabies to the pet,” said Dr. Neil Marrinan of the Old Lyme Veterinary Hospital in Connecticut.


While most of us think of dogs getting rabies, cats can also get it and must be vaccinated by law. If your pet has been vaccinated, he typically will be given a booster shot, and you can expect to be ordered to keep him quarantined at home (typically 45 days) Labato said. Be sure your pet stays current with his rabies booster shots (every three years for dogs and, occasionally, every year for cats) so he remains protected regardless of his risk of exposure.


Depending on the case, you might be ordered to simply keep your dog indoors and on a leash in your own yard and secluded from all other animals in your home. In other cases, your pet might be ordered to be quarantined off-premises at a state-approved animal control facility that includes a run with a remote controlled door and swivel dish for food and water, Marrinan said.


In all cases, you would be prohibited from taking your animal to doggie daycare, parks, other public areas, and possibly even the waiting room at your vets, the doctors say.


The length of time your dog will need to be quarantined can vary from state to state, Labato notes. “It used to be a six-month quarantine (for unvaccinated pets). It can take that long for rabies to manifest if (your pet) is bitten by a rabid animal.”


For example, Hawaii requires a quarantine of all pets that are entering the state, even if they have no known exposure to rabies, Marrinan said. There, dogs and cats must be micro-chipped for identification, vaccinated for rabies at least twice and have a blood test after 120 days at a federally accredited lab to confirm they are rabies free, he said.


How do you quarantine your pet from people and other animals inside your home?


“By the time a disease is recognized in a household with multiple animals, everyone probably has been exposed to it,” Labato said. “It’s like if you have one child with the flu or chicken pox, you expect the others are going to get some variant of it.”


For example, by the time a pet shows signs of the flu, the most infectious period (the first four to eight days) is over, she says. Nonetheless, if your pet has an infectious disease, you should limit him to certain parts of the household, to limit the chance of your other pets becoming infected. She says there should be no sharing of water bowls, food bowls, toys or bedding, or joint activities, such as playing and going for walks.


With the flu, it is particularly important to keep younger animals and those with respiratory problems or other underlying illnesses away from sick pets so they don’t become infected. Some strains of canine flu and avian flu, which can affect cats, may develop into streptococcus infections or pneumonia in susceptible animals, Labato said.


How do you quarantine your pet from people and animals outside your home?


Keep your pet restricted to an area in your home and property and away from visitors — including both people and animals. With many infectious diseases that affect pets, it is unclear if people can be infected, Labato said, so limit everyone’s exposure to the pet until your veterinarian has given the all-clear. Use common sense when caring for your sick pet by washing your hands immediately after cleaning up his waste or handling toys, dishes, etc. that might have saliva on them. Wearing gloves when cleaning up poop in the yard or litter boxes adds another layer of safety.


Why is it important to follow your veterinarian’s advice?


With rabies, it is a matter of life and death. This fatal virus with no cure can be transmitted to people through a pet’s saliva, says Marrinan. “State law compels veterinarians to follow very specific guidelines. Owners are required by law to get their cats and dogs vaccinated, and to comply with the law to protect the public. Failure to do so can result in a revoked license and end a career for the veterinarian,” he said.


With other infectious diseases, closely following your veterinarian’s advice is the best way to protect your other animals and family. In the case of rabies, only the state or responsible municipality can end a quarantine, the doctors say. With other diseases, follow your veterinarian’s orders.


Jaromir Chalabala via Shutterstock 


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