Here's what pet stores are doing during coronavirus closures

Several pet stores reassured TODAY that they would stay open and supply food and other necessities to pet owners during the coronavirus pandemic.
golden retriever eating dog food from metal bowl
Pet supply retailers shared their coronavirus protocols with TODAY. Getty Images stock

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/ Source: TODAY
By Kerry Breen

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of stores and retailers have closed and cities have come to a standstill. Some areas have banned nonessential travel; some states have instituted curfews to help curb COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

On March 16, dozens of store owners and managers submitted an open letter federal, state and local government officials regarding pets and coronavirus precautions. The letter praised governments for the decisive action being taken to slow the pandemic but asked that the well-being of pets be considered.

"It is vital that businesses that provide products or services for the care of pets, and those that house animals, are included among the critical infrastructure that is allowed to remain open throughout the crisis," they wrote. "Just as grocery stores and hospitals provide necessary sustenance and medical care to humans, pet stores that sell food, products and supplies and businesses that offer veterinary and boarding services must remain operational to ensure the continued humane care of animals."

Among new rules and regulations, pet owners may be wondering how to get the necessities for their furry friends. TODAY spoke with major retailers and online shopping services to see what they are doing to handle owners' needs during the outbreak.

Regions with closure mandates or shelter-in-place orders

San Francisco and several surrounding counties that make up the Bay Area have been put on a three-week shelter-in-place order that only allows for essential travel and closes most businesses. New York City has closed public schools, limited restaurant services and urged employees to work from home. Pennsylvania and New Jersey have closed nonessential businesses. Other states are considering similar steps.

According to representatives from Pet Valu and Petco, their stores will remain open even in restricted areas since pet stores are currently considered essential businesses.

"All Petco stores are open and continuing to provide the essential products and services for pets who are counting on us in these uncertain times," said the national brand in a statement to TODAY.

Pet Valu senior marketing manager Alexandra Home told TODAY that since pet stores are a "primary source" of pet food and supplies, they are considered to be essential stores and are currently open to the public to "supply pet parents with everything that they need."

In-store shopping

For those in areas where in-store shopping is still an option, some pet stores have revealed details about their safety and cleaning protocols. PetSmart shared a list of practices, which include the following, in a press release:

  • Store associates are "following regular cleaning practices using a disinfectant formulated to kill coronavirus, among other germs, and have increased the frequency of cleanings of key customer touch points" like doorknobs, shopping carts and checkout kiosks.
  • Grooming tables, kennels, water bowls, food bowls and toys are cleaned and disinfected between every pet service.
  • Grooming tools are cleaned and disinfected between every pet service.
  • All surfaces and playrooms are cleaned nightly.
  • Air filters are changed weekly to maintain "clean, healthy air" in grooming areas.

PetSmart says it is also "closely following guidelines" from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and national public health agencies.

Homa said that Pet Valu stores will focus on extra cleaning during this time. She also clarified that the stores have not seen any shortages of supplies, and they are not expecting any in the future.

"There's so many selections (of pet food) that it's not necessarily any one brand that people are coming in for," she explained. "We have not run into inventory issues in our stores, yet. ... Our warehouses have been able to replenish and our stores get trucks each week."

It's also a good idea to prepare an emergency kit for your pets. The American Humane Society recommends having two weeks' worth of pet food on hand and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also recommends having a 30-day supply of your pet's medication.

Petco told TODAY that beginning March 17, store hours nationwide are being limited to allow for "appropriate and efficient re-stocking and to limit the amount of time both our customers and partners can interact in our stores." Other services like in-home dog training and online booking for grooming appointments are currently canceled.

Curbside and rapid pickup options

To limit time spent outside, try curbside or rapid pickup options. Petco's stores offer a system in which customers can place orders online and then pick up their prepared order in stores; local pet shops may have even more flexible options like curbside pickup available.

Online shopping

For those who don't want to leave their homes at all, pet food and supply deliveries may be the best option.

"The health, safety, and well-being of our team continues to be our top priority," Diane Pelkey, the vice president for communications and public relations at Chewy.com, told TODAY. "As of now, we plan to continue operations and are working diligently to fill all orders while ensuring a safe work environment for our team members."

National chains said that they don't anticipate interruptions in service during the coronavirus pandemic. Getty Images stock

Pelkey noted that due to "higher customer demand," the retailer anticipates "deliveries taking slightly longer during this time," but did not provide any further details on the kind of delays pet owners could expect.

PetCo told TODAY that due to supply demands, they have stopped shipments of "non-essential" pet items including pet toys and animal apparel. However, other supplies will be available online.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation, and our team is working non-stop to meet the needs of all pet parents," said PetCo in a statement to TODAY. "In addition to our physical stores, we're ready to serve pet parents who are self-isolating."