On social media, I read messages every day from pet owners who are uncomfortable with the pandemic protocols that vets and vet clinics have been practicing since the onset of COVID-19. In many cases, it’s not just discomfort, it’s disapproval. Many clients cannot accept the big changes from the way vet clinic visits used to be. It is now more difficult to make an appointment, to communicate during the appointment, and to continue the treatment and follow-up of the animal.
I asked pet professionals and vets to share their experiences and thoughts.
Rebecca Hudson (Oregon) Well, the protocols aren’t ideal, but that’s what has to happen now to protect human life. I like a clinic in our area that uses Skype calls for exams so that the vet team and owners can communicate during the exam and the owners can see what’s going on. I have my vet clinic that does stuff like vaccines for my dog in our car. For the full exams, I walk with them (socially distant from technology) to the doors of the clinic, then I leave. It seems to help.
Aimee Gertsch (New Mexico) I’m grateful we were allowed in, but only one of us. It was a regular visit. We were actually lucky because our normal exotic vet had passed away, and a lot of vets weren’t accepting new clients at the time (that was a year ago), but we found someone. one who not only could see us, but who allowed a person with the pet. Sadly our Yuki (a hedgehog) passed away a week later, but I was very happy that I could be in the room and not have to drop her off at the curb. Since I haven’t needed a visit to the vet in a year, I’m not sure about the protocols at this time, but I can say that for the most part our condition has returned to its usual activity, so they probably let people in with their pets. They finally let people in with patients into doctors’ offices, so I think vet offices can have relaxed protocols as well.
Summer Storm Kingery DVM (North Carolina) As a vet using COVID protocols, I have to say it turned out much better than expected. In many ways, this has reduced some of the pressure on the patients because the team doesn’t try to look like “professionals”, but instead focuses on what relieves the patient. We have had dogs that needed sedation without needing it with their owners and strangers outside the building. These are usually very anxious clients, whether in the medical environment themselves or about their pet’s behavior. The animal feeds on it and becomes reactive, which aggravates its distress, and a downward spiral begins. Often the biggest challenge is getting a vehicle at the door. We have had more blood tests than ever before because there is a lot of space. Having said that, we just can’t be so efficient. So we can’t see so many pets which is difficult for our customers. I should also mention that I go out to talk to clients. We also allow a client to come in when we need to review serious and complex information, end-of-life decisions, and teach specific skills, such as using a feeding tube.
Photo by Kim Rinehardt
Jessica Theisen de Gonzalez (New York) I had to do the one thing I had hoped not to do, which was euthanize my geriatric cat. Having to let go of her and not be present when I knew she would have been comforted was devastating. We had been to the emergency room three times in four weeks with sinusitis, not knowing it was a rapidly growing brain tumor. This isn’t the first step in getting brain scans for a cat with a runny nose. It was believed to be a virus that would run its course after two different antibiotics were brought on board and failed. So the brain tumor diagnosis blew me away with surprise. I immediately decided that the best option was to free her from suffering; she was in so much pain that my loving cat barely recognized me and did not respond to my attempts to reassure her and say goodbye. It was as if she had given up, thinking that I had given up on her and mourning my absence / abandonment deeply. It traumatized me even more than euthanasia normally would. There is no blame for anyone, but the cocktail of guilt and grief I struggle with has been overwhelming at times.
Stephanie Presdee (United Kingdom) Consulted once in a parking lot for a callus on his hock which he had nibbled. Taking my dog away from me, the vet changed the leashes from my double clamp to a sliding leash that I was not happy with. I warned the vet [the dog] was strong when he was dragged into the operating room, then we were able to watch him through a glass door wandering into a lead-free operating room. . . God knows what he’s capable of (flat-haired retriever). I changed vets, and on the recommendation of a behaviorist friend, I used a closer one; she called them and told them I was a retired veterinary nurse. I was still seen on the sidewalk outside, with traffic and other dogs. I authorized [the dog] unaccompanied for an FNA (swollen lymph gland). The vet lady said he never stopped wagging his tail, but upon his return he was determined to sniff a nearby post and I had to save her. Next time for a check, he stood at the bottom of his crate in the trunk of the car on a signal to wait for the exam, and he was fine.
Colette Kasé (Mexico) In our part of Mexico, not much has changed when it comes to taking our pets to the vet. We just wear masks, follow protocols for taking temperature and using hand sanitizer (and shoes), and socially distance ourselves as best we can. I feel so sad for the people I hear in the US and UK and the difficulties they face in accessing veterinary care.
Donna Furneaux (Ontario) I dropped off Georgia with the warning “She bites”. (She does if I’m not there.) The vet came out and sat down on the curb before Georgia was brought in after her denture. The same goes for the dental surgery check-up. Vet got the chance when I wasn’t around to find out what was good for Georgia. . . apparently approaching it from the side to look at the teeth was best. Without me there, she could try different approaches. The conversation on the sidewalk was actually very pleasant and more relaxed than in the examination room.
Carol Duncan (Texas) My primary vet started letting me go to the clinic with my dog. There was a time when it was only on the sidewalk, but she got out of the car to discuss her recommendations after examining the dog. I felt very comfortable with it. However, I have a dog who has made regular visits over the past year to a specialist at another hospital due to an immune mediated illness. This installation is only at the curb. I have never even met the vet who treats her and I just have brief conversations with her on the phone. It’s uncomfortable waiting in the car in the heat of Texas and I miss the opportunity to visit in person with the vet.
Jennifer grant (New Mexico) Here they collect the animal from the car. It is probably the safest for the staff. Very well with my current easy dog. It would have been a nightmare with my anxious late dog.
Ruth L. Heller DVM (Pennsylvania) On the vet side, we mostly don’t like not having owners there. Difficult to demonstrate things over the phone! Even with the video. My hospital now allows a person to enter the waiting room, but not yet in the examination rooms. So a little better, but no return to normal. Usually, pets don’t seem bothered at all, and some are less stressed than if their owners were there. I have always allowed owners to be euthanized, even at the start. As for the owners, while most are understanding and wonderful, we have been shouted more over the past two years than the previous twenty. We also don’t like it taking us longer. We don’t like the fact that we can’t see so many appointments or that we are booked weeks in advance. I took a woman out because she was not allowed in the exam room and half an hour was not a long enough date for her liking (she had been told all this when she had planned and made a date slot that I could have used for another animal anyway). A man called my receptionist barracuda because he was told he couldn’t be in the exam room and threatened to insult us all over the internet about it. We really need patience.
Julie ellingson (California) I have had several visits to the vet. It was difficult to get Patty back when she was in pain and didn’t have a face-to-face with our vet last year but honestly our vet is at high risk for a bad COVID result and that was before the vaccines. Poor Patty had a tumor that caused a catastrophic decline in her quality of life, and we let her go two weeks later. We were able to be there for her and for Willie a few months earlier. (He was 14 1/2 and it was his time.) I was grateful that I could hold them when they passed. Some vets agree with having an owner – I was able to walk in when Jenny hurt her back. I’m sure many vets find it easier to examine their patients without the distraction of the owner, but I’d rather be able to see what they see and talk to them.
Flacortia Rosiea (Alberta) I go to a rural vet where the exam rooms are spacious enough to take some distance. I was with my dog when she was euthanized and it was priceless.
Jenny julien (Oregon) I visited six different veterinary surgeries during the pandemic, with over 40 dogs rescuing me and mine. Some practices certainly allow more time for communication than others. Depending on how busy the practice is, I find writing down a list of issues to give them help. Expressing appreciation for the hard work of the veterinary offices during COVID is a must for me! It really helps to have a vet who will take the time to communicate well. If they’re too busy to do it when it’s really needed, that is, assessing symptoms or explaining test results, that’s difficult. At the same time, if people who don’t need to talk can’t make time for the vet, it really helps everyone. I think it’s especially important for veterinary surgeries not to incur any surprise costs when visiting the vet in the event of a pandemic. Fearful dogs that would do best in the presence of an owner or someone you know are my biggest challenge with vet visits during a pandemic.
Most important during this time: be understanding, kind and polite. Everyone is stressed!