What to expect from your vet during the pandemic
During the recent COVID-19 outbreak, veterinarians in the United States were called on to adapt their practices to new and frequently changing guidelines set forth by the governors of their respective states. In the early months of the outbreak, most veterinarians were limited to seeing emergency cases only. Some states later modified this to include “urgent care and prevention of infectious disease.” All routine wellness care was to be postponed to a later date.
There was serious concern about how to safeguard the health of the veterinarians and their staff, while addressing the needs of sick animals. The supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) was also an issue. Many practices, including my own, were interviewed online and by telephone for an inventory of gowns, gloves, masks, anesthesia machines and ventilators. At one point, it was suggested that anesthesia machines could be retrofitted to function as ventilators.
Judging by the surveys of veterinarians nationwide, most practices instituted the recommended changes designed to protect the health of staff, clients and patients. Now, as many areas of the country are in the early stages of re-opening, I wanted to share with dog owners the guidelines that have been established for veterinary practices to resume “elective procedures and non-urgent care for all animals."
Veterinary practices are required to practice social distancing, monitor the health of the hospital staff, and reduce the number of people in the building. You will need to make an appointment to have your pet seen, unless it is an emergency situation.
When making an appointment, you should expect to be asked whether you or anyone in your household has or is suspected of having had COVID-19. If the answer is yes, it is recommended that the animal not be seen until the illness in the household has resolved. If the animal requires immediate care, veterinarians are advised to take heightened precautions as set forth by the Center for Disease Control, to minimize veterinary staff exposure.
Curbside pickup of animals should be used to minimize the number of clients in waiting areas and exam rooms. When this was first recommended, I thought it would be more a problem, but the vast majority of clients and pets have positively accepted this change in procedure.
The client is advised to call when they arrive in the parking lot. A technician takes the pet’s medical history by phone and then meets the owner outside to take the pet into the building. After examining the pet, the veterinarian calls the owner to discuss the treatment. When the care is completed, the owner is notified and the pet is delivered back to the owner.
Awaiting your vet appointment in the car instead of the waiting room is now standard procedure in the age of COVID-19.
In cases when curbside pickup is not practical, veterinarians must develop a protocol to minimize the contact between staff and the client. I have had to get creative in several situations involving extremely large and aggressive dogs that were coming in for surgery. In these cases, only one owner per animal is allowed per animal patient. Since social distancing cannot be maintained, both the owner and the staff are advised to wear appropriate nose and mouth covering when within six feet of each other.
Euthanasia appointments have been a difficult situation for both owners and veterinarians. Until recently, owners were not able to be with their pets as the pets were put to sleep. Thankfully, the guidelines have been relaxed to allow for owners and additional people to be with the pet under these circumstances.
As a part of the complete re-opening procedure, veterinary hospitals must prepare a plan to protect staff and clients from potential transmission of COVID-19. Staff members are screened daily. This includes having their temperature taken and logged in a report. When reporting for work, staff members are also questioned whether they have any symptoms of COVID-19 such as shortness of breath, cough, fever, chills sore throat, muscle pain or recent loss of taste or smell.
Staff members are questioned whether they have knowingly been in contact in the past 14 days with anyone who has tested positive or has symptoms for Covid-19. If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” the staff member is to be sent home and advised to contact their healthcare provider.
Social distancing is to be practiced in the workplace as much as possible. All employees and clients are required to wear a face covering if the social distancing of six feet cannot be maintained. Strict cleaning and sanitation standards must be implemented, paying particular attention to high touch areas, such as point of sale terminals and door knobs.
Routine testing of companion animals for SARS-CoV-2 is not recommended, especially when the pets have not been exposed to COVID-19. While veterinarians and human health authorities agree that contracting and becoming symptomatic for COVID-19 is extremely rare in pets, a few isolated cases suggest that, on rare occasions, COVID-19 positive humans can pass the virus to cats (primarily) and dogs.
Individual states have specific requirements for testing pets and a commercial test is available for specific situations only. The American Veterinary Medical Association has guidelines for veterinarians to follow to determine when to test veterinary patients.
Veterinarians can order tests from laboratories including Antech. The tests are respiratory and gastrointestinal panels that include testing for SARS-CoV-2 for both dogs and cats. The test samples are sterile swabs of the eye, nose or throat.