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Animals and Plants

Q: Is USDA still able to protect U.S. agriculture from animal and plant pests and diseases?

A: Yes. Like all Government Agencies, our top priority is the safety and health of our employees and customers. At the same time, we understand our customers rely on our services and that they are important for business continuity. In the days and weeks ahead, our goal is to balance safety with service, and we will make adjustments as needed in order to adapt and continue to accomplish our mission of protecting the health and value of America’s agriculture and natural resources.

Q: Can customers and the public still access USDA APHIS buildings for service?

A: As a precaution, most USDA facilities are closed to the public, but we do still have employees working at ports of entry among other locations. In addition, some locations remain open for endorsement activities to help facilitate trade and international pet travel. This is on a case-by-case basis, and we encourage you to check with your local APHIS contacts for more information. They can assist you in identifying alternate ways to conduct business if in-person engagement is not an option.

Q: Will APHIS continue to carry out existing pest and disease emergency response programs, such as virulent Newcastle disease, cattle fever tick and spotted lanternfly?

A: APHIS will continue to carry out on-the-ground eradication and management activities where we have active pest and disease programs. This is a core component of our mission and we work in close coordination with states and industry to address pest and disease outbreaks that threaten American agriculture. However, employees will take necessary precautions to minimize face-to-face interactions with producers or the public, while carrying out these activities. We will also have policy staff working remotely to support on-the-ground activities.

Q: What if a new pest or disease threat is detected?

A: APHIS’ mission is protecting the health and value of America’s agriculture and natural resources, and it’s vital that we continue to respond to agricultural emergencies in coordination with state and industry partners.

Q: How is APHIS assisting importers and exporters who need the signature of an Agency official on trade documents such as phytosanitary certificates and health certificates?

A: APHIS understands the importance of facilitating trade and will continue to provide services to complete required paperwork to support the import and export of live animals and plants and animal products. To support social distancing and protect the health and safety of our employees, whenever possible, APHIS will seek to process these documents electronically. For more information about what services are available in your local area, please see the following resources:

Animals and Animal Products:
  • For animal product imports, email apie@usda.gov or call 301-851-3300 option 4
  • For live animal imports, email vs.live.animal.import.export@usda.gov or call 301-851-3300 option 2
  • For live animal or animal product exports, please contact your local export service center
Plants and Plant Products:
  • For import questions, email: plantproducts.permits@usda.gov or call 1-877-770-5990
  • For export questions, locate your export certification specialist here or call 301-851-2309

Q: Will APHIS continue to conduct inspections of livestock at the border?

A: APHIS understands the importance of facilitating trade and continues to have staff at the border to inspect livestock. Personnel at these facilities will take care to utilize all recommended social distancing precautions to ensure their health and safety while carrying out these functions.

Q: Will APHIS have staff working at Plant Inspection Stations?

A: APHIS understands the importance of facilitating trade at our plant inspection stations. These facilities will remain open to provide inspection services for plants arriving into the United States. Personnel at these facilities will take care to utilize all recommended social distancing precautions to ensure their health and safety. They will also be using additional personal protective equipment such as gloves and sanitizers while still conducting essential inspections. If a pest is identified and treatments are necessary to clear a commodity into American commerce, staff will be able to oversee these operations to ensure clearance in a timely fashion.

Q: Will APHIS employees continue to work at military airbases and civilian airports to prevent wildlife strikes and safeguard the flying public?

A: APHIS will continue to have wildlife specialists and biologists at these locations to protect members of our military and the flying public by dispersing birds and other wildlife from runways and flight paths. This work is largely conducted remotely in the field, and employees are safely able to carry out this essential duty with little interaction with the public or customers.

Q: Is APHIS still conducting Animal Welfare Act inspections?

A: APHIS is continuing to conduct regular inspections where local area and individual premises conditions allow our inspectors to maintain social distancing norms. APHIS will always place the highest priority on investigating reports of extreme Animal Welfare Act violations that could lead to the confiscation of animals. However, if a State or locality has issued a shelter-in-place order like San Francisco, inspectors will honor that order and not conduct inspections in that area at this time.

Q: Will APHIS continue to conduct compliance inspections for field trials of genetically engineered organisms?

A: APHIS will continue to conduct compliance assurance activities. At this time, APHIS is conducting virtual inspections of field trials, and will resume in-person, routine inspections when it is safe to travel. APHIS will continue investigating and is prepared to respond to any incidents involving noncompliance with regulated activities including field trials, and movement/importation of regulated genetically engineered materials. For questions about our compliance and inspection process and requirements; to report a compliance incident; or to submit a required report associated with a permit or notification, send an e-mail to: brscompliance@usda.gov.

Q: Will APHIS continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security to continue operations at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and ensure the smooth transition of the National Bio- and Agro Defense (NBAF) Facility to USDA?

A: The Plum Island Animal Disease Center continues to be operational to support testing for high consequence livestock diseases. APHIS, in coordination with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), also continues to work on the transition of this facility from Plum Island, New York to Manhattan, Kansas. We remain on track for USDA to take responsibility for NBAF operations in December 2020 with the formal transfer of ownership occurring in May 2021.

Q: Will APHIS continue to provide laboratory support and disease confirmatory testing to other laboratories, state animal health officials, federal agencies and producers?

A: APHIS is continuing to provide these important functions while prioritizing foreign and emerging animal disease testing and testing to protect public health and the agriculture economy.

Q: Will APHIS continue to respond to active predator threats impacting agriculture, natural resources or human health and safety?

A: APHIS will continue to conduct predator management activities across the country to protect livestock (including during the spring lambing and calving season), threatened and endangered wildlife, and human health and safety. This work, including aerial operations, is performed in the field with infrequent interaction with customers or the public, and thereby presents minimal risk of exposure to employees. WS will continue to talk with producers, with some accommodations, to reduce any potential risks.

Q: Will APHIS continue to carry out its National Feral Swine Damage Management program?

A: APHIS will continue to have specialists in the field to prevent damage caused by feral swine. This work is largely conducted remotely in the field, and employees are safely able to carry out this essential duty with little interaction with the public or customers. It is critical that we continue program activities so that we don’t lose ground in our on-going management and elimination programs.

Q: Will APHIS continue to review license/permit submissions for veterinary biologics, complete biological products licensing actions, and ensure compliance with the Federal Virus Serum Toxin Act?

A: APHIS will continue to carry out these important functions to ensure producers have access to safe and efficacious veterinary biologics to keep their herds and flocks healthy. APHIS will also ensure that biologics manufacturing facilities, and the products they produce, continue to meet requirements set forth in the Virus Serum Toxin Act. APHIS continues to evaluate license/permit applications, testing products and product components, while also conducting inspections/investigations as necessary.

Q: Will APHIS continue to ensure compliance of facilities handling select agents to ensure proper storage and maintenance?

A: At this time, APHIS’ Agriculture Select Agent Services (AgSAS) will not be conducting routine inspections. We do have the ability to extend registration validity to ensure that all facilities are authorized to possess, use or transfer select agents. Should a compliance issue arise, we have the ability to conduct the necessary follow up, including an inspection.

Q: Are there restrictions for imported commodities as a result of COVID-19?

A: There may be import requirements for certain commodities that contain animal-derived materials. APHIS has posted guidance for the import of these commodities here: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/downloads/import/covid-19-info.pdf (PDF, 158 KB). APHIS will work directly with importers to expedite the process.

Q: What will happen if animals are shipped to a slaughter establishment that closes due to local restrictions or staffing shortages?

A: FSIS front-line supervisors and district managers are working closely with slaughter establishments to ensure adequate staffing of FSIS inspection personnel in support of continued plant operations. Prior to arrival at a slaughter establishment, livestock fall under the jurisdiction of local government with APHIS providing assistance as warranted. In the event of a plant closure, APHIS field staff would coordinate with state and regional plant staff to determine how and where to divert animals.

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Q: Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick from coronavirus (COVID-19)?

A: You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from my pet or other animals?

A: There is no reason at this time to think that any animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking. Recent studies show that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.

Pets have other types of coronaviruses that can make them sick, like canine and feline coronaviruses. These other coronaviruses cannot infect people and are not related to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, such as washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene. For more information on the many benefits of pet ownership, as well as staying safe and healthy around animals including pets, livestock, and wildlife, visit CDC’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People website.

*Note: The scientific name of the new strain of coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2. In people, the disease caused by the virus is commonly referred to as COVID-19. Because we are addressing the virus itself in the context of animal health, we refer to it as SARS-CoV-2.

Q: Can animals get the new coronavirus?

A: To date, very few animals have been reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide, and most have been in animals that had close contact with a person with COVID-19.

We are still learning about this virus, but we know that it is zoonotic and it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by SARS-CoV-2.

The first case of an animal testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the United States was a tiger with a respiratory illness at a zoo in New York City. Samples from this tiger were taken and tested after several lions and tigers at the zoo showed signs of respiratory illness. Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. This investigation is ongoing.

USDA is working with CDC and other human and animal health partners to monitor this situation and will continue to provide updates as information becomes available.

We encourage anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 to isolate themselves from other people and animals, including pets, during their illness until we know more about how this virus affects animals. People who are showing symptoms of the virus and who must be around animals while sick, should take proper precautions (as outlined by CDC) to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Q: Will animals be tested for coronavirus?

A: This is an evolving situation, however, CDC and USDA do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus at this time.

Public health and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that are showing signs and that are known to have been exposed to the virus out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public health and animal health officials. The guidance is available online at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/animal-testing.html.

Q: Who will collect the samples from animals?

A: After the decision is made to test, the state animal health officials will identify the appropriate person to collect the sample using appropriate personal protective equipment and sample collection methods (PDF, 9.5 MB).

State animal health laboratories can conduct animal testing, but any positive samples would need to be confirmed through additional testing by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL).

Performing animal testing should not reduce the availability of tests for people. Testing performed on animals may be based on the published tests used in people, however, reagents are available that are not required for testing people. The NVSL and National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) laboratories are using reagents for testing animals that are not required for testing in people.

Q: What should I do if I think my animal has the new strain of coronavirus?

A: Consult your veterinarian with any questions about your animal’s health. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, and if your animal is showing any signs of illness. Call ahead and arrange the veterinary hospital or clinic visit.

If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your veterinarian and let them know you have been sick with COVID-19. Some veterinarians may offer telemedicine consultations or other alternate plans for seeing sick pets. Your veterinarian can evaluate your pet and determine the next steps for your pet’s treatment and care. Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials, who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide whether samples should be collected and tested.

Members of the public or licensed rehabilitators should contact the state wildlife agency about potential cases in wildlife that may warrant testing. The state wildlife agency will consult with the state public health and animal health officials for a decision on whether testing should proceed.

Q: Can I test my animal through a private laboratory?

A: We recommend working through your local, state or federal public health and animal health officials to determine whether testing is appropriate.

USDA is aware of private laboratories that are offering SARS-CoV-2 tests for pet owners. If these labs find positive samples, they would need to be confirmed through additional testing by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories for confirmatory testing.

In accordance with international reporting guidelines, collecting additional samples and background information may be required to complete confirmatory testing of cases from private laboratories.

Additional resources:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the best source for information about COVID-19 in people and risks to animals. CDC information about COVID-19 in animals may be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.

There are several additional resources for information about this virus in animals:

U.S. Department of Agriculture - www.usda.gov
The World Organization for Animal Health – www.oie.int

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