Veterinary Advice During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Husky dog at the vets

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

These are unprecedented times and, outside wartime, none of us has any experience of any kind of social restrictions so it is perfectly understandable that people might have concerns about what might happen if their pet is injured or unwell as this crisis unfolds over the next few months.

The other perspective that we must keep in mind is that veterinary practices are also businesses where the senior managers also have a legal responsibility both to keep their staff safe and to stay within the guidelines of their own professional regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. As well as that, every veterinary professional will want to remain at work to meet the needs of the animals under their care and therefore to avoid contracting either the virus itself, or any other symptoms that would require them to self isolate and, as a result, place additional strain on the practice’s ability to see clients. As a result, many practices will be asking clients to use a hand sanitiser on arrival at the practice and we all have a responsibility to observe every precaution that we can.

Vets are trying to maintain a full service for pets and their owners, but they may make alterations to maintain staff, client and pet safety so check your practice social media on a regular basis.

Every veterinary professional will want to place the needs of their clients’ animals first but, to be able to do so, they will be relying on members of the public who have any symptoms or who have been in recent contact with anyone who has been self-isolating, to stay away from the practice until the end of the advised period of isolation.

People showing symptoms of Covid 19 should not attend the clinic or ask for a home visit. Your practice may offer phone triage, or may ask you to ask a friend to attend the clinic with your dog (after letting the vets know you are self isolating). You may be asked to stay in the car prior to your appointment, or to bring minimal people in to the consultation room. Wash or sanitize your hands before and after the visit, vets wash their hands and tables between each patient anyway. Covid 19 may last for a short time on your pet’s saliva or coat, but as you wash your hands regularly after handling your pet the risk of catching it from your pet is very low.

If you need to self-isolate then your pet should stay in your home too.. If it necessary for your pet to receive veterinary care, in these circumstances, you may have to ask a friend or relative to take the animal to the practice on your behalf but you must check with the practice first.

Dogs can access the garden, if you have one, and you will need to provide physical and mental exercise through brain games and active feeding.

Additionally, some practices will be asking clients to consider a more remote form of consultation in cases where physical examination of the animal is not necessary. In some cases, sending your practice a digital photograph may assist them to help you but, in every case, the best advice must be to telephone your practice first unless they already operate an on-line consultation service. Your vet will want to be sure that, in their opinion, any risk to the animal is outweighed by the benefit and will always be willing to discuss the available options with you.

All practices will be planning to prioritise the services that they offer to ensure that those that have most impact on animal health and welfare – such as emergency care – can be maintained.

It may well be that staffing levels will be challenged as this viral outbreak continues and you may find that some practice branches will be sharing services and, as a result, there may be a more limited service available than that which you’ve been used to. This may be evident in longer waiting times, restrictions to the practice waiting room or less availability for non-urgent cases but, as in everything concerned with this situation, your patience and tolerance will greatly assist your practice to help you and all their other clients.

Rest assured that, in an emergency, your practice will do its utmost to help you to the best of their ability. In the event of severe staff shortages, the best advice might be to direct you to another nearby practice but your own practice will only do this in extremis and if they believe that, under the extraordinary circumstances, this is the best course of action for you and your animal.

There are some things that we can all do to assist the practice and these include:

  • It is always good practice to have a backup plan in case of emergency; make sure someone is nominated to care for your pets if you are taken ill. Ensure you have at least 2 weeks of food and medication available, but please do not stockpile
  • If you should be self-isolating, telephone the practice and please be scrupulously honest in describing your situation – do not visit the practice or ask for a home visit.
  • Remember that visiting your home to attend to an animal puts practice staff at risk – most practices will have a policy concerning this and they may think is advisable to refuse. In such a situation, they will suggest an alternative course of action
  • If your animal is unwell, make a careful list of all the symptoms you’ve observed so that you can accurately describe the situation on the telephone
  • Give plenty of notice if you need a repeat prescription – don’t leave it until the last minute
  • Please wash your hands before leaving home and use the hand sanitiser/hand washing facilities provided on arrival at the practice
  • If you have a need to visit the practice frequently, please discuss with the practice how best you can together achieve that
  • You may experience greater difficulty in getting through by telephone, please be patient as the practice will be doing its best to help everyone under increasingly difficult circumstances
  • Try to be as flexible as you can about any appointments that you may be offered
  • If you are symptom free but in a high risk category, and are therefore required to socially distance yourself for weeks or months, wherever possible and in advance, line up a friend or relative who can take the animal to the vet for you rather than requesting a home visit. Remember to explain to the practice that you are symptom free but in a higher risk category
  • Everyone will continue to want the best for their animal, especially your veterinary practice, but please try to respect the difficulties that self isolation by clients or by the practice staff will create for them too
  • Finally, in the case of self isolation, it might not be possible for an owner to be with their pet at the time of euthanasia – however distressing that might be, please respect the veterinary professional’s position

How can Breakthrough can help? Are you self isolating and need help and advice for your dog, cat, rabbit or small pet?

Contact Breakthrough Helpline on 0808 168 33 44 or email and we’ll do our best to assist.


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