Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Pet health during COVID-19 and how vets handle it

Dr. Ryan Llera and vet assistant, London, with kitten patient, Chester. Photo via Dr. Ryan Llera.

We certainly are living in interesting and challenging times. As COVID-19 continues to plague the world, veterinary clinics and our patients are not immune to the effects. Allow me to give you a little insight on some things you can do to help your pets, as well as what kind of experience those of us working in a veterinary clinic have been having (and are continuing to have).

Despite everything, vet clinics are busier than ever. Some of this may be due to the fact that people have been home more with their pets now and therefore they may be noticing things sooner. They may also be finally catching up on some of those pet health concerns that may have been getting delayed due to other reasons. The other side of it is that, with many people being home, they have also been getting new pets.

All of these factors can make it difficult to get into see your preferred family veterinarian. You may be calling around to find any clinic that can see your pet. Sometimes it isn’t possible for even a same day or even the same week appointment, even though most veterinary clinics have been able to and gracious enough (often giving up their lunch or the chance to use the bathroom) to squeeze in one more emergency. This is where having a good, regular relationship with your veterinary clinic can come into play, as it allows them to more easily understand the full details of your pet’s medical history. It does make it harder if you’re going to a new clinic and having to re-explain or start everything all over again, which may be why some clinics just aren’t able to take on new clients or patients right now.

Some other things you can do for your pet’s health:

  1. Follow any directions that you have been given regarding ongoing medical treatments or long-term care.
  2. Don’t let medications run out so that you need a refill on short notice (most clinics like a 24 hour notice, but may need longer for special order meds).
  3. If your vet asked you to call with an update or come in for a recheck, it’s for a good reason: So that we can stay on top of things and make sure that your pet is getting the best care possible, and that their problems can be fully taken care of and resolved.

In this time of curbside service, it can really help if you email your vet clinic a list of questions or history well ahead of time so that they can be ready to help you more efficiently. It also is helpful to address the most pressing problems first and, unfortunately, not try to cram every solution into one visit. Curbside veterinary medicine takes a lot longer than regular in clinic appointments. Potentially, your clinic may also use telemedicine. This means that your clinic may allow you to do appointments over the phone or video chat. There will likely still be a fee involved, but this can save you the time of driving to the clinic and waiting outside (this may be a bonus with winter coming). Not all patient cases can be handled in this way, however, and you should ask your clinic if this is something that can be useful for your pet and your concerns.

On the other side of the coin, things are a lot different inside the vet clinics than they used to be just seven months ago. While some hospitals are letting one family member in with a pet, some clinics are exclusively curbside still. I can assure you that even if you are not in the building with your pet, they are receiving just as much care, attention, and love as if you were there; in some cases they’re even getting extra love and treats because we know this can be a scary time for them, too.

There’s also a situation in the clinics that you may not realize or see, but is taking a toll on all of the staff, from the receptionist to the veterinary technicians to the veterinarians themselves: Client behaviour, in some cases, has gotten a lot worse. There is no reason for anyone to be yelling at, threatening, or becoming violent towards the animal care staff. Understand that we are doing the best that we can in these times and that many of us are working short staffed and have not had more than a weekend off in seven months. We know that you love your pets and it can be an emotional time, but behaving like this is not going to help anyone and may result in you needing to find a new clinic.

I’m not sure when and if things may return to normal. This may be our new normal for at least the next one to two years. As we have done for the past seven months, we will continue to adapt so that we can put our best foot forward to help your pets and you.

If there’s something you’ve often wondered or questions you have about regarding pets, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with a cat, three dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can see what else he is up to on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

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