The pandemic has changed almost everything about how we conduct our lives, and visits to the veterinarian are no exception.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued guidelines for veterinary clinics, and they include maintaining 6 feet of distance whenever possible, frequent hand washing, and wearing PPE.
Most vet clinics are doing curbside drop-off: you park in the parking lot, call the clinic to let them know you’ve arrived, then place your cat’s carrier on the curb or sidewalk outside the clinic. A staff member comes out, picks up the carrier, and takes your cat inside for the exam. After the exam, the vet calls you on your cell and discusses the situation. When your cat is ready to go home, a team member brings the carrier back out and sets it down for you to pick up, along with any prescriptions or paperwork.
A stressful situation for cats and their humans
Trips to the vet are stressful for most cats and their humans at the best of times. Curbside service only adds to the stress: the thought of having to hand over your cat and not being able to be part of the appointment is more than most cat parents want to deal with unless it’s an emergency.
In a recent pet owner webinar sponsored by Assisi Animal Health, Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, an internationally recognized award-winning veterinarian known for his work in the areas of general small animal practice, pet obesity and nutrition, life extension and longevity, practice management and leadership, and the special needs of senior dogs and cats, stressed that curbside service is not an ideal long term solution. “Veterinary medicine is best practiced in person,” he says, “even during this pandemic.” Inclement weather will make it impractical to leave clients waiting in their cars, and the stress and anxiety associated with curbside visits may lead to skipped wellness visits.
How to make curbside visits less stressful
Now more than ever, it’s important that your vet has the Cat Friendly Practice® certification, which ensures that staff is trained in cat-friendly handling and how to meet the unique needs of feline patients. Some cat clinics have been getting creative during these challenging times, using technologies like Facetime or Zoom or even conducting the exam near a clinic window so the cat’s human can be a virtual part of the exam. If your vet doesn’t offer this, ask for it!
Before you bring your cat to the clinic, ask about the clinic’s infection control protocols. How are they screening staff members for COVID? Will they make sure that your cat is not exposed to any other cats while in the clinic? “The odds of a cat catching COVID in a veterinary clinic are incredibly low,” says Dr. Ward, but the clinic should have a solid protocol in place to minimize exposure to other patients in the clinic.
Virtual vet appointments
The pandemic has increased the use of telemedicine in human medicine, and veterinary medicine is no different. Generally, veterinarians need to have a Veterinary Client-Patient Relationship in place (which means they will have had to have seen the pet at least once in the past year) in order to be able to practice telemedicine, but some states have relaxed these requirements during the pandemic.
It’s important to understand that there are several different terms used when people talk about telemedicine, and they don’t all mean the same thing.
- Telehealth: This is general health advice not geared toward an individual cat’s situation. The information you can find on this website falls into this category.
- Teletriage: This is a paid service, where the client pays a membership fee to have 24/7 access to veterinarians. I’m not a fan of these services since these veterinarians cannot legally diagnose your pet or prescribe treatment. All they can tell you is whether your situation requires an immediate visit to an emergency clinic or whether the issue can wait until your regular vet has an appointment available.
- Telemedicine: Only telemedicine allows a veterinarian to examine (virtually,) diagnose and prescribe treatment and/or medications.
How to make the most of a telemedicine appointment
Virtual appointments can work for conditions such as skin allergies, behavioral problems, chronic conditions, minor medical conditions and follow up care. Preparation for a telemedicine appointment will determine its success.
When you make the appointment, ask how much time you will have with the veterinarian and what the cost will be.
Email your vet basic information about the reason why you asked for the appointment along with any photos or videos that show the problem. Make sure photos and videos are clear and in focus and well lit. Follow up with your vet the day before your appointment to make sure they received what you sent.
During the appointment, make sure you have all your notes with you, and be in a quiet, distraction free area. You don’t need to have your cat on camera until your vet asks to see her, but keep her nearby so you can easily get to her.
Once treatment is discussed, make sure you understand how any medications will be delivered. Are you expected to order them yourself? Will they be shipped to you? Will you be expected to pick them up curbside? Will there be a follow up appointment?
An exception for euthanasia
We previously featured an article on how veterinarians are handling euthanasia during COVID. Dr. Ward has been encouraging veterinarians to allow at least one or two clients into the clinic to be with their pet during euthanasia. “If you can go get your hair cut, you can’t make the argument that you can’t let your client be there for a euthanasia,” he says.
Have you taken your cat to the vet during the pandemic? What was the experience like for you? If you’re a veterinary professional, I’d love to hear your perspective. What has work been like for you these last few months? Do you have any tips for cat parents that can help make curbside or virtual appointments less stressful and more effective?