Pam Dudding Contributing writer
For many of us, our animals are family members, giving us unconditional love, a listening ear and endless entertainment. Pets have been shown to reduce anxiety, and even lower blood pressure.
If you have farm animals, they provide enjoyment and have economic value. Animal health issues will appear even during these times of social distancing. During the pandemic, veterinary services are considered essential. Vets ensure the well-being of animal companions and oversee safety of the food supply. What changes have veterinarians made to ensure ongoing care for patients and safety for their owners?
First, personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to prevent virus transmission from person to person. As with other providers, people should stay home when sick, and let their contacts know if they may have been exposed. What should you do with pets if you are sick or under quarantine? It is recommended that pets be separated from COVID positive individuals because they can act as a fomite which is something that can transfer an infectious agent from one person to another. This could happen if someone who is shedding virus sneezes or cuddles with a pet, and then the virus is transferred from the fur to another person, just as if sharing a blanket. Be aware that when you walk your dog in public, you may wish to discourage others from petting that dog.
There have been three cases of transmission of COVID 19 from people to cats, but none from pets to people. Remember that in cats, infected is not the same as infectious. The first case was found in a tiger in the Bronx Zoo which had mild respiratory illness. Another cat in the home of a COVID positive patient in New York had mild respiratory illness and was found to be positive for COVID 19. Other specific coronaviruses are common in animals such as cattle (winter dysentery), dogs (coronavirus diarrhea) and cats (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). These are not contagious to humans and so far, no cases have been found that animals can transmit COVID 19 infection to people.
Most viruses are species specific, but there are a few exceptions such as rabies. Is a Rabies vaccination essential? The law requires it and vaccination protects pets from a fatal disease. The risk of rabies infection is especially great during spring and summer, so yes, rabies vaccinations are essential from a public health standpoint.
What about heartworm tests? That depends on the risk factors, exposure to infected mosquito bites, local incidence and travel history. There have been cases of heartworm diagnosed in New Castle and it is potentially fatal over a period of years. An infected animal serves as a source of infection for the mosquito population. A heartworm blood test requires that the vet and assistant be about a foot apart, so PPE would be required for heartworm testing. The American Heartworm Society recommends postponing testing but keeping animals on preventive during the summer months. If they are under six months old, dogs can start on heartworm preventive without the blood test.
If your pet needs veterinary attention, first call your vet. Many problems can be solved by a telephone consult. Telemedicine is available through many practice websites. Now that you are spending more time with your pets, try to observe them and check them over for any problems such as lumps, excessive thirst and fleas. Take pictures and videos. Solving a problem early through telemedicine will save you money and possibly an emergency visit later. If an exam is needed, you can choose a home visit in some areas, or a curbside office visit. How does this work?
At Holistic Veterinary Consultants, patients are being seen one at a time. Clients with complex medical issues are asked to schedule a telephone consult before their appointment to get the history and ask relevant questions in order to minimize contact time with veterinary staff. Then upon arrival, they give the receptionist a call from the parking lot. Owners are invited to have an outdoor patio appointment or allow staff to take the pet inside for a treatment. Cats are examined inside the office due to flight risk. Masks and new gloves are used by veterinarians for each patient and they appreciate it when their clients do the same.
After treatment, the doctor will go outside to communicate any instructions to the client and the pet is returned to the car. Payment can be taken by contactless credit card reader at the car.
Curbside service allows veterinary patients to get care and owners do not have to worry about themselves becoming exposed to an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19.
Holistic Veterinary Consultants also take acre of farm animals and does local house calls. What changes have been made? Face masks and gloves are worn and the client is asked to wear a mask. Animals are seen outdoors – pets on porches and cows and horses at the barn. Most communications such as receipts and rabies certificates are sent by email so there is less contact between people.
Some clinics are only seeing emergencies, and others are operating as usual with extra precautions. All are encouraging curbside service. Most have discontinued elective surgeries to conserve PPE for hospitals. Veterinary surgeons use sterile gloves, masks, and gowns just like human surgeons. There is a shortage of these items and many of the drugs that veterinarians use.
What about spaying and neutering? It is worth calling around if you wish to have your pet spayed or neutered. An unspayed pet will sooner, rather than later, present you with a surprise if there is any contact with other animals. It is kitten season in the animal shelters, so postponing your spay surgery is not a great plan. Dogs also will escape their confines and come home pregnant, so keep a close watch on them, too. Actually, animal shelters have seen a surge in adoptions lately and they are one business that is happy to see their numbers go down.
If you need medications, call or email your vet. Ordering ahead makes for a quicker visit. Some vets have delivery services and website stores for their clients to use so medications can be delivered to your door. Ordering through your vet will ensure that you have the right medication and will help them stay in business to continue providing care for your animals.
- Keep your veterinary provider and yourself safe by wearing a mask and gloves during your visit
- Practice preventive medicine by continuing deworming, vaccinations and good nutrition
- Create a disaster plan for your animals at all times should you become incapacitated. This is something most people do not think about until the flood, hurricane, or illness is upon them
- Keep un-neutered pets indoors
- Use telemedicine to solve problems early before they become emergencies
- Hug your pets often and benefit from their great healing power