Integrative Pet Vet column: COVID-19 and veterinary medical care

Dr. Ron Carsten.

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all our lives. Our stress and distress associated with COVID-19 directly affects our pets. They recognize that we are struggling with a difficult situation but they don’t understand the cause. This escalates their stress levels. One stress affecting many pet care givers is the fear that veterinary care for their pet companions will not continue to be available. This is a major concern because many pets have ongoing medical needs and others have urgent needs.

Veterinary services are considered essential for animal health. As a result veterinary practices are expected to remain open much longer than other service businesses during this pandemic. To stay open, veterinarians and their staff face a wide range of challenges. They are striving to provide veterinary care for their patients while avoiding their own exposure and preventing spread of COVID-19.

Veterinary medical facilities are meeting these challenges based on recommendations from resources like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and veterinary experts in infectious diseases. Recommendations are centered around social distancing, avoiding congregation of people, disinfection and use of personal protection equipment (PPE) when applicable. Prioritizing the urgency of the medical issue is being used. This means that elective and noncritical appointments and procedures are being postponed in an effort to reduce veterinary staff exposure to the public and conserve critical medical supplies.

Understanding of COVID-19 is expanding rapidly, but there is much that needs to be determined. For example, it is not completely clear if pets are naturally infected with COVID-19. Current expert opinion is that dogs and cats are not being infected. This is supported by a recent announcement of laboratory screening of samples from thousands of dogs and cats that were all negative for COVID-19. There is, however, a low level concern that pets can have COVID-19 on their coat and can act as a fomite (object with virus on it) when the pet is in contact with a COVID-19 positive person.

There is a low level concern that pets can have COVID-19 on their coat and can act as a fomite (object with virus on it) when the pet is in contact with a COVID-19 positive person.

When requesting an appointment with your veterinarian, you may find new procedures in place. Veterinary staff will determine the urgency of the medical problem before scheduling the appointment. They may also ask if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection or may have been exposed to anyone that is ill. This will play a role in determining how the appointment is managed. Veterinary facilities are managing social distancing and reducing staff exposure risks by a combination of limited contact with individuals at the reception desk, not allowing clients to congregate in their facility, not allowing anyone except staff into the facility, or offering curbside service. Curbside service may involve a staff member meeting the client in the parking lot so that staff can transport the pet into the facility while the client remains in their car. Discussion about the pet occurs either at a distance or by telephone. These processes limit contact between people while allowing for continuing medical care. Telehealth is getting lots of attention as a way to limit contact between people. While there are certainly benefits and it should be used in some situations, in its current form it cannot meet all needs for pet patients.

In addition to social distancing efforts, veterinary staff are working to limit staff, client and patient exposure by regular hand washing, judicious use of PPE, and facility disinfection. While navigating all these changes, be patient with the veterinary staff, ask questions if you don’t understand the new procedures, be respectful of social distances, and be sure to inform them if you are ill or have been exposed.

COVID-19 has created changes in our personal routines and increased stress levels. Our pet companions feel this stress. Focus on keeping your pet companion’s routines as consistent as possible with regular walks and play activity while following appropriate recommendations. Keep regular feeding times. In addition, there are numerous products that can help to reduce pet stress including nutriceuticals like Composure, Bach Flower remedies like Rescue Remedy, essential oils like lavender (be cautious with cats), pheromones, and herbs like valerian. Managing your own stress is valuable.

Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about how they are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to provide quality veterinary care for your pet companions.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.

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