Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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COVID-19 and Your Veterinary Visits

Mariposa at the clinic, being a very good girl.
Mariposa at the clinic, being a very good girl.

So you meet them in the parking lot after hours and place an envelope of money in a box and sit in your car and watch while they come out and take the money, and leave a small package of pills.

No, it’s not a drug drop, it’s just you and your veterinarian working out the safest way to get you the necessary medication for your pet.

The coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 is “novel”, meaning it’s entirely new and no one would have immunity to it so it’s highly contagious and very easily spread, person to person only. Preventing the spread of a highly contagious disease depends largely on keeping the infected separate from the uninfected.

Speaking of people, we know to keep clear from those with obvious symptoms of viral infections like cold or flu, and they are usually advised to quarantine themselves. But it’s not always clear who’s infected since there’s usually an incubation period where the infected are asymptomatic yet are nonetheless highly contagious.

The “plague village”

Having everyone just stop interacting and stay in one place, usually in their home isolated with family, is extreme but often the best way to stop continuing spread of infection. In 1665 the English village of Eyam was struck by the plague which quickly killed about half the population of only a few hundred, but they decided soon after the deaths began to literally wall themselves off and not leave, nor let anyone pass through to uninfected areas to the north, which lasted 14 months. They are credited for stopping the spread of the plague to northern villages.

Modern day medicine

Coming back to the modern day, many communities in countries fighting the contagion of the coronavirus have suggested, advised or mandated that people do basically the same thing in a modern way: instead of not leaving their town and no one entering it, people don’t leave their homes and no one else enters them. People remain with those they’ve already most closely interacted, and if infection exists there, they will not spread it to outside groups of people, like their co-workers, friends, and people in the grocery store, and outside groups of people who may be infected won’t be able to spread it to them. It keeps infections isolated, and after a period of time new infections stop developing and hopefully the infectious disease dies out, having no new victims to infect along with the population developing a natural immunity to it, and possibly treatments and a cure or vaccine to stop it from reinfecting later.

We know far more about how diseases act today than 450 years ago, though, so we also know how viruses live inside the body and how they can be spread. This coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. The typical spray of these droplets is less than six feet, so keeping that much distance between yourself and anyone else—because they could be infected but asymptomatic—keeps it from spreading to you. But the virus can live in the droplets on absorbent surfaces for a day or two and on hard surfaces like glass and metal up to three days, still able to infect others. Avoid touching things infected people may have touched like doorknobs and shopping carts, not touching your face so that any virus you may have touched isn’t transferred into your nose our mouth, frequently washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand-sanitizer to kill and wash away any virus that may be on your hands, and sanitizing any surfaces that have been touched by anyone but yourself or family, not later, but immediately.

Social distancing and a visit to your veterinarian

In the US, where social distancing and sheltering in place are recommended, this also means closing many businesses considered not essential to daily life. Veterinary services are considered essential, so veterinarians can stay open during this phase of battling the coronavirus, but not all their services are essential. They have many modifications to keep their services only to essentials to keep you and themselves safe and to preserve protective and medical materials and equipment that might be needed for human treatment.

Now think of all those cautions and practices in terms of a visit to your veterinarian, and of what happens in your veterinarian’s office among staff, and your pet in the middle of all the handling even for a simple nail trim. From walking in the door to paying for your services when you leave, everything violates recommendations for ways to stop spreading a highly contagious illness—meaning that not only are you endangered by others who’ve been to your vet and by your veterinary staff, but you could also unknowingly spread infection to all of them by personal contact or by a cough or sneeze. The only one in this whole group who is safe is your pet, because a study showed that pets don’t develop the COVID-19 disease when infected with this coronavirus.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) along with veterinary and animal welfare organizations in the US and Canada and Europe agree on a few basic principles that help limit contact between staff and families and conserve medical equipment:

  • Limiting services to emergency or life-saving procedures, alleviation of pain and suffering, and public health issues.
  • Limit human contact by keeping the staff inside the clinic and the human families outside the clinic.
  • House call veterinarians should follow the same guidelines by treating the pet in their vehicle or transporting to their office or their home.

Limiting services

This area has a lot of suggestions but no hard and fast rules because some animals may need a service that is not essential for another, and, even in the best of times, whether a veterinary clinic can or should handle certain emergency or life-saving procedures is a judgement call based on staff and equipment available, knowledge and ability, even time of day.

Non-essential services that can wait until after the coronavirus emergency include elective surgeries, including regular spays and neuters, dental procedures, annual vaccines, grooming, purchasing food and treatments for parasites.  In a recent webinar some critical situations considered essential mentioned were excessive bleeding, rapid deterioration, permanent dysfunction , some essential treatments include emergency spay for pyometra, but not a regular spay, a rabies vaccine but not distemper, or relief of pain and suffering by euthanasia. Others mentioned excessive vomiting or diarrhea.

Limit human contact

If you go into the clinic, you and the staff are both exposed to new possibilities of infection. Keeping 6 feet between each person who is treating an animal can be impossible, and the fewer the better. Your veterinarian may ask you if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, or if you’ve traveled recently, and determine the best way to proceed depending on your risk of exposure weighed against the clinic’s.

Many veterinarians have already begun to have the human wait in the car and get a call on their cell phone when the clinic is ready; one designated person will come out to get the pet, preferably from outside the car, take it inside for treatment, then bring it back out, and payment can be done electronically. You might pay online for prescription food or medications and pick it up from a drop box in the clinic parking lot.

And veterinarians are getting a crash course in telemedicine, which is now permitted as part of the veterinary-client-patient relationship and recorded in your pet’s records as any in-person visit or exam would be.

House call veterinarians

The risks to veterinary professionals of entering a home while we are all self-quarantining is obvious, but can be done with planning to examine in a garage, for instance, or in the veterinarian’s vehicle. The AVMA has a section devoted to house call veterinary services.

How to determine what you should do

First, you would likely be able to determine if your pet needs life or death treatment, and you can always call your veterinarian who knows you and your pet to help you decide. For instance, you know your cat who’s in renal failure needs a dose of subcutaneous fluids—that’s not immediately life or death, but it is a life-sustaining treatment. Annual vaccines and grooming can probably wait until the quarantine period is over. A wellness visit can also wait or be done via telemedicine.

A veterinarian in one recent webinar on the subject said a true emergency is one where you’d rush your pet to the emergency clinic in the middle of the night. Another said that a life-sustaining treatment was a regularly-schedule cancer treatment.

Trust your veterinarian to choose the right course of action before simply calling to make an appointment, and keep the well-being of the people who care for your pet and for you.

Dr. Scott Weese, author of Worms and Germs Blog, created this ingenious animated description of a visit to your vet with COVID-19 precautions in place.


Other articles here about COVID-19

Humans, Pets, and the Coronavirus (https://thecreativecat.net/humans-pets-and-the-coronavirus/)

No Coronavirus Found in Pets, But Keep Them in Your Emergency Plan (https://thecreativecat.net/no-coronavirus-found-in-pets-but-keep-them-in-your-emergency-plan/)

Fostering Saves Lives, Self-quarantine With a Foster Kitty During the COVID-19 Crisis (https://thecreativecat.net/fostering-saves-lives-self-quarantine-with-a-foster-kitty-during-the-covid-19-crisis/)

Veterinary Medicine During A Time Of Restriction Of Elective Services And Social Distancing (https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/files/2020/03/COVID-guidelines-essential-elective_social-distancing_Mar24b-2.pdf)

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19):Owner Contact Guidelines (https://cdn.brief.vet/CB/CB_Covid-19_eblast1/DT_Covid+2019_03302020_G.pdf)

What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf)


Social distancing WITHIN veterinary clinics (https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2020/03/articles/animals/dogs/social-distancing-within-veterinary-clinics/)

COVID-19: Protecting your veterinary team during the pandemic (https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/protecting-your-veterinary-team-during-pandemic)

FAQs – Practicing Veterinary Medicine in Pennsylvania During the COVID-19 Pandemic (https://www.pavma.org/blogpost/1674843/342444/FAQs–Practicing-Veterinary-Medicine-in-Pennsylvania-During-the-COVID-19-Pandemic)

COVID-19 Response: Limiting Non-Emergency Surgery in Shelters and Spay Neuter Clinics- updated 3/16/20 (https://www.uwsheltermedicine.com/news/2020/3/covid-19-response-limiting-non-emergency-surgery-in-shelters-and-spay-neuter-clinics-updated-3-16-20)

Telemedicine Resources During COVID-19  (https://www.pavma.org/page/COVIDvetTelemedicine)

Considerations for mobile and house call veterinarians during the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/mobile-house-call-veterinarians-covid19-pandemic)


Social distancing and veterinary clinics: A video (https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2020/03/articles/animals/dogs/social-distancing-and-vet-clinics-a-video/)

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7 thoughts on “COVID-19 and Your Veterinary Visits

  • Pingback: The Kitten Apocalypse is Coming, Pause TNR and Prepare ~ The Creative Cat

  • Cos I’m not a “people” cat, the peeps know I wouldn’t do well at the vet unless they were in with me. Since I’ve been going to Dr. D., she lets me email her with any problems so I don’t have to endure the trip to the office. Luckily my visits are scheduled for November so I don’t have to worry unless this comes back. Thanks for this article

    • Some vets are thinking that telemedicine for animals who don’t do well at the vet will actually become a regular thing after this. Hope nothing happens before November!

  • That precious Sweetie, she is so happy! But yes, it can all wait until it’s safe to leave the house. It is a plague, in a way!

  • catladymac

    As you are an animal rescuer – are spays and neuters considered essential – or is kitten season going to be its own pandemic ?

    • In a very big way, yes. I’m writing the article about that from recent guidelines and webinars, and also preparing with the Homeless Cat Management Team and Pittsburgh CAT–we had to postpone the fundraiser that usually pays for kitten season for us. Hopefully we can all make it through, but it won’t be pretty.

  • I really want to take Sweetie in to the vet’s, but it’s not life or death, so it’ll keep.
    Before we try to introduce her to Da Boyz, she needs clean bill of health.
    I’ve also scheduled routine check-ups for Da Boyz in a couple of weeks, but my guess is, those will cancel or be rescheduled for May or June.
    I’ve started to call this ‘the plague’…


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