Vet clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic

Basically all businesses and services are being impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic, and veterinary clinics are no different. Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam.

This is a concerning time for many people. And while many people have already been working from home, unfortunately let go from their jobs, or quarantined, our pets have been wondering why they no longer have the couch to themselves in the middle of the day or why their staff is home all the time now. With the recent announcement from the Ontario government that all non-essential services will be closed (full list here), this brings up the questions about veterinary hospitals and where they stand. You might think that certainly Fluffy or Rover’s family veterinarian is essential but surprisingly, they are not considered essential under the Ontario Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. This is quite a shock to many people.

Rest assured, our licensing body the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO) and the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) have been working on this classification for some time, and more so since the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to spread. Fortunately for our animal friends, veterinary clinics have been deemed essential and will remain open for the time being. If you haven’t had the need for a veterinary clinic in the past week, here’s just a few updates on what many clinics are doing to help see your pets still in these challenging times:

  • Veterinary services have been limited to emergency or sick visits. Most wellness/vaccine visits and in some cases elective surgical procedures have been suspended.
  • Social Distancing (man this term is everywhere!) – Clients are being asked to wait in their cars and a staff member will bring your furry family member into the clinic for their exam or treatments. A history of the ongoing problem is typically taken over the phone and the doctor will call to discuss the exam findings and recommendations. This may even mean for euthanasia procedures. Trust us as veterinarians that your pets are being given just as much love and care (and probably extra cookies or treats) even though you’re not in the room.
  • If you have traveled or showing signs of COVID-19, but your pet NEEDS veterinary attention, please have someone else bring them to the clinic and stay by your phone to discuss their care.
  • Clinic hours may be limited as staff may have had to cut back to minimize exposure risks, or because staff have had to take time off due to caring for kids or at risk family members at home.
  • Many clinics have online stores to order food or meds. Like many stores, rationing may be at play as supplies may become limited, and we encourage everyone to have enough food and meds for their pets for the next 3-4 weeks. Call a few days in advance in case we need to order something.

These are just some of the changes clinics have made, and you should contact your regular family veterinarian by phone should you need advice or help. Expect these changes to be in place for some time along with further modifications. Below is a link from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which also regulates pet animal health and import into Canada and may answer some additional questions.

While I am recommending you contact your vet clinic, here are some cases in which you should seek veterinary attention (this is NOT a complete list):

  • trouble breathing
  • collapse
  • trouble walking
  • seizures
  • trouble urinating (especially male cats)
  • vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours
  • moderate to extreme lethargy
  • severe bleeding

Some things that may be temporarily resolved by a phone call or telemedicine, or at least you may be able to get some advice without needing to leave your home (I’m not promising your vet won’t suggest that you come in):

  • ear and skin problems
  • nail problems
  • coughing or sneezing without discharge
  • limited accidents in the house
  • not eating for less than 24 hours (it’s okay if they miss a meal)
  • internal or external parasites

We thank our clients for understanding and for continuing to work with us in these times as our procedures may change daily. If we get sick or infected, we can’t continue to provide care to your pets, so we appreciate everyone’s honesty if they’ve traveled or have been showing signs.

Together we’ll all get through this.

Reader questions on pets and COVID-19

I have read that people should wash the hand sanitizer off their hands before petting cats, because the cats can get sick if they lick it. Is this true?”

These sanitizers are alcohol based. If you’ve applied it properly and it has dried, your cats are not likely to experience any effects. If they are licking gobs of it, a taste reaction will likely ensue where they may foam at the mouth or vomit. The other concern would be alcohol poisoning, which would often show up as weakness and stumbling, and with larger amounts a coma like situation. Signs would typically appear within 30 minutes. In most cases, I would expect there to not be a significant problem.

Can dogs carry the virus in their fur?”

Yes and no. If a person who is infected, coughs or sneezes on their pet, they feasibly could transmit the virus. Transmission is likely very low, however, and there has not been any significant signs of it affecting dogs, either. It is also not likely to stay on them as long as it might stay on surfaces like cardboard, plastic, or metal. Pets can be cleaned off with a regular bath, but if they are living with a sick person, they should also be kept away from other people and animals just as a precaution.

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 two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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

2 thoughts on “Vet clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • So glad you are getting the word out so people know what to do. Trying to keep everybody safe is hard, especially when you are worried about a sick or injured pet.

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