The ongoing pandemic related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has altered many things across the world. Our leisure activities, such as going to the movies, meeting friends for drinks at the local pub, or even enjoying a family night out at a favored restaurant have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.
In an interesting development, the guidelines for social distancing have now impacted how your furry friends will receive their healthcare. Veterinary clinics across North America have created a new "normal" by greeting their clients in the parking lot, gathering needed information, and then taking the pet into the clinic while the client waits in the car. These "curbside" or "car-side" check-ins help to minimize the potential for spread of the virus while still maintaining the ability to ensure your pet's well-being.
So, how is this going to work? First, let's look at the reason for your pet's visit. Without a doubt, urgent and emergency cases will still be seen, as will wellness visits for puppies and kittens. Many of these cases are time-sensitive and should be seen either promptly or on a regular basis, such as updating vaccines for younger pets. But if your pet is an adult (over 1 or 2 years of age) and is scheduled for a routine wellness check-up, your veterinarian may ask you to reschedule. There's no harm in waiting a few weeks until things settle down and life returns to normal.
IMPORTANT POINT: Please don't be offended if your veterinary team asks you about recent travel or about your own history of recent respiratory disease. As Dr. Scott Weese points out in his Worms and Germs blog, screening people with risk factors is just another "new" step in the process of keeping people safe!
If your pet is going to be seen, veterinary team members will come out to the car, gather the information that they need (dietary history, primary concern, etc), and then take your pet into the office. Inside, the veterinarian will do the physical examination and then either call the owner on the phone or return to the car with the pet to discuss findings. While this may seem odd, remember, the bottom line is to minimize the potential for the spread of the virus via personal interactions. It's also VERY important to remember that this work flow is new for many practices and things might take a little while longer to process when compared to a traditional veterinary visit. Be patient and realize that the veterinary team is working hard to make sure you can spend your "at home" time with a healthy and happy pet!
It should also be noted here that many veterinarians are asking clients to postpone elective surgeries, such as spays/neuters and dental cleanings. This is not because of any risk to our patients, but rather because of the need to ration certain supplies. The Federal government as well as many states have asked human hospitals to delay elective procedures and veterinary leadership has also recommended that veterinarians consider holding off on these optional surgeries. Here's the statement from the American Veterinary Medical Association website:
If you are in an area with active COVID-19 cases, considering limiting patient care to acutely ill animals and/or emergencies. Consider rescheduling elective procedures. Animals that are sick or injured should receive veterinary attention. Be strategic in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns, and gloves
Another option for many people is the use of telemedicine. In this case, you can stay in the comfort of your home and connect with your veterinarian via an app that will allow you to show concerns you have with your pet as well as get advice for what he or she might need. There are a wide variety of applications that allow this and you should check with your veterinarian on which service they are using. Most of these apps can be used via a monthly subscription or a pay as you go type of system. While this is not a substitute for a good physical exam, it can help in cases where the pet has been recently seen by a doctor and just needs a quick recheck, for example, a post surgical incision check. Also, by connecting with your veterinarian in this way, you can show pictures of skin lesions, video of a pet coughing, or even examples of your pet's lameness. Seeing this in real time allows your veterinarian to help you make the informed decision about the need to actually come into the hospital.
The good news in all of this is that your veterinary office should be open and ready to help with your pet healthcare needs. Veterinarians and their teams are vital to providing public health surveillance and should rightfully be considered "essential businesses." We also know that many who are adhering to guidelines for staying at home need to know that their furry family members are doing well and need options in case of an illness or injury. It's all part of trying to maintain some sort of normalcy in these stressful times.