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Taking your pet to the veterinarian can be quite the event, even under the best of circumstances. But in the age of the coronavirus, the anxiety and uncertainty involved with these appointments can escalate to an entirely new level.
Veterinarians are doing their best to continue serving pets during this time, but their hours may be limited, and they may require you to take some preventive steps before your arrival. If your pet needs to see a vet during this pandemic, here's what you can expect.
How Coronavirus (COVID-19) Is Impacting Veterinary Services
Although veterinary clinics are considered essential businesses, and they're allowed to remain open, veterinary clinics have had to make adjustments to how they operate in order to protect themselves, their staff and their regular clients from the possible spread of the coronavirus. Many clinics are understaffed due to employees self-isolating at home and/or a need to reduce employee hours to accommodate a major business slowdown.
Because of these factors, most vets have canceled all non-essential appointments and routine procedures, and they're only seeing emergency cases in person. In some states, vets are still required to conduct annual examinations before renewing a pet's prescriptions to treat chronic conditions. However, these vets may be allowed to prescribe medications without a checkup in extreme cases, such as if the pet's parent is sick or under quarantine and unable to bring their pet in, according to the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association. This is what is referred to as a VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient-relationship) where your veterinarian knows your pet well enough to diagnose and treat medical conditions that your pet may develop. This involves keeping a detailed medical history of all conditions and procedures and consulting you on each throughout the process. This can only be formed after "your veterinarian examines your animal in person, and is maintained by regular veterinary visits as needed to monitor your animal's health," according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Options For Taking Your Pet to the Vet
Although vets want to do their part to flatten the curve during this time, they also want to continue looking after the health and well-being of their pet patients. If you need to consult with your vet, here are some of the procedures they may have put in place for your and their health and safety:
- Drive-up service: If your vet provides this service, they'll meet you in the parking lot and retrieve your pet from your vehicle. Then, they'll conduct their examination while you wait in your car, returning your pet once they're finished.
- Limited-occupancy waiting rooms: Many vet clinics are allowing pet parents to accompany their animals inside on a limited basis, with some practices only allowing one guest inside at a time while everyone else waits outside. Note that although you might be allowed to wait in the waiting room, in most cases you won't be allowed to accompany your pet in the exam room.
- Teleconference consultations: Most vets are able to provide consultations and advice over the phone for more general issues and cases that don't require hands-on treatments, tests or examinations. Some vet practices also offer video conferencing, which allows you to show your vet exactly what's going on with your pet. Telemedicine is also utilized to recheck exams. Each state has certain guidelines on what they allow for telemedicine and what they allow veterinarians to do through this channel.
The AVMA advises vets to assess the coronavirus risk level of both their staff and their guests, so don't be surprised if your vet's office screens you before allowing you inside. During this process, they may ask you about recent travel activities, potential exposure to the coronavirus and any symptoms you might be experiencing. They may also want to check your temperature to assess whether you're running a fever. Clinics are also doing their best to thoroughly clean exam rooms and waiting areas and, when available, wear masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
Just as your vet's office is taking precautions to help keep everyone safe, there are a few things you can do, too, including:
- Thoroughly cleaning your pet's carrier both before and after your visit to the vet.
- Wearing your own PPE during your visit and anytime you leave your home. Your veterinary clinic will likely have their own rules and requirements for use of PPE, so make sure to follow their rules when bringing your dog or cat to the vet.
- Keeping at least 6 feet away from anyone you encounter, be it staff members and other pet parents while at the vet or your friends and family.
- Respecting requests to wait in designated areas, whether that's the waiting room, outside or in your car. And don't insist on accompanying your pet during the exam.
- Keeping in mind that your pet will take emotional cues from you. The more anxious you act when you're separated from your pet, the more stressed they will likely be. For your pet's sake, it's important to remain calm and cooperative during vet visits.
Steps You Can Take at Home
To make any necessary interactions with your vet go more smoothly and reduce everyone's risk of exposure, here are some additional steps you can take at home:
- Preemptively call your vet to find out what their current policies and practices are surrounding the coronavirus. Ask how chronic conditions should be handled during this time, and what you should do if your pet has a medical emergency.
- Order pet prescriptions and prescription pet food online, if possible, and have these items shipped to your home.
- Put together a pet first aid and emergency kit so you can treat minor injuries at home once a veterianarian has been consulted.
- Designate someone outside of your home, such as a friend, neighbor or family member, to pick up your pet and take them to the vet if you become sick or quarantined. Give them a list to take to appointments that includes the reason for the visit as well as your pet's medical history, current conditions and medications.
Keep in mind that not all veterinary practices are addressing the coronavirus in the same way. Policies and practices differ based on state and local guidelines and regulations, how your municipality is affected by the coronavirus, as well as the equipment and resources available in your vet's office. The only way to know for sure what your vet is doing during this time is to give them a call — and always make sure to call before visiting your veterinarian to keep you and their staff safe.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet lover, freelance writer and novelist. She currently lives in the Ozarks with her husband and their gaggle of four-footed dependents, where she enjoys watching a wide array of wild animals in her backyard while drinking her morning coffee.