Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 28, 2023 by Crystal Uys


The pandemic has changed almost everything about how we conduct our lives, and visits to the veterinarian are no exception.

Safety first

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?

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11 Comments on Veterinary Visits During the Pandemic: What to Expect and How to Make Them Less Stressful for Your Cat and You

  1. I just took my cat Shiloh to the VET, and it was just about as your article said, except that they actually came out to my truck and picked up the cat, they were wearing masks and gloves, since they were doing lab work on her in addition to an exam, I went back to work, and first the doctor called to discuss the physical exam, and then after they conducted the rest of the lab work, They called ,I came back, paid over the phone, a Tech brought her out with her medications, spent a few minutes going over them with me. My VET already had a drop off service for animals long before the pandemic, so they have a good system of keeping the animals well taken care of while they are there. and having been with them for several years, I have full faith and confidence in their cleaning and safety procedures.

  2. At the start of the pandemic in March, I had to take one of my cats to the vet and the clinic only offered curbside visit. He was vomiting a few times in the day so it was an urgent visit. But I didn’t expect the curbside situation so to say I was stressed is an understatement. I didn’t realise I wouldn’t be able to be with my cat, who is timid with strangers. I had to wait outside the clinic in a defined waiting area, and craned my neck to look through a window as the nurse gave my cat subcut fluids and the vet assessed him. My poor cat. Fortunately he is well now after anti-vomiting medicines, and it is good that he got the medical attention he needed. But as an anxious cat owner, it was a terrible experience not being able to be there with my cat.

    • I’m so glad to hear this, Sue. I’m starting to hear that more vets are doing this, and it’s encouraging.

  3. We’ve had several vet visits, including vetting a couple of strays – one who was able t o be neutered just before the deadline on unnecessary surgeries. We have two separate vet services and both have now allowed me to come in with the cat as long as I am wearing a a mask. There was also an emergency clinic visit with curbside pickup and delivery and a very good call from the examining doctor (at 2 a.m.) And the euthanasia of my CKD cat Oscar, where I was allowed time alone with him in an exam room before the actual procedure. Except for the ER visit, the clinics and staff and doctors were all ones my animals had previously met.

  4. Two of our cats are okay with vets visits. Even though my preference is to be with them, I felt okay with their having an appointment without me. One of my cats is scared of visits. I was excited and relieved to discover that her vet was offering the option of conducting the exam near a clinic window. It’ll be nice when vets can be open again to the public.

  5. Luckily I have not had to take either of my cats to our vet during the pandemic. One cat would be ok with the current practices but the other one would be extremely stressed. And Heaven forbid my high anxiety senior Velcro dog should require a visit! There is no way she’d allow herself to being taken away by a stranger from both me and the car and I refuse to do that to her unless it’s an emergency. I also will NOT send a pet in to be euthanized without me being present. I understand the current situation but I also think there are safe enough ways to handle these situations without putting such undue stress on pets and their owners.

  6. We foster so have been to the vet numerous times with the foster kittens during this time. We have found the curbside pick up and drop off to work well. Someone we know had to have their dog euthanized and the vet set it up outside in a shaded area for the safety of everyone and so that the person could be with them.

  7. I’m so glad the girls have been healthy during the pandemic. I wanted to start to take Lexy for semi-annual check ups now that she’s older, but I will hold off until I can go in with her. She gets very stressed if she can’t see me during a vet visit.

  8. I have visit the vet twice for I have 2 cats. I am not happy about not watching how people handle my kids but Sally is terrific. The vet comes out too talk to you first and then sends out a person too take the cats too the room then when the exam and whatever is done they bring them back out and the vet comes out too talk again but she stays her distance then she tells you what she did. Then the one of the receptionist comes out and gives you the bill.

  9. I have only had one vet visit since the pandemic started and it was with my scardy cat, Pele. I felt really bad that I couldn’t be in the clinic with her because she is terrified of people. I couldn’t even use my regular vet either because it was an emergency visit. At that clinic we waited in the car and one of the girls came to the car to get her and vet called me to discuss what needed to be done. When it was over, they brought her back to my car.

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