COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has drastically changed lives and requires a rethinking of even the most basic everyday tasks. That includes taking your dog to the vet—an essential service that many dog owners are wondering how to access safely in the COVID-19 era.
But living in the age of COVID-19 doesn’t mean that your dog has to go without necessary veterinary care. Here’s how to get the care your dog needs, while still protecting yourself.
Understand How COVID-19 Spreads
The primary way the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads is from person to person, through respiratory droplets. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now states, “The virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.”
This knowledge has led the CDC to issue recommendations for social distancing that include maintaining at least six feet of space between people as well as wearing face coverings when out in public (and at this time the CDC recommends staying home unless you are accessing or performing an essential service).
If you already have a routine preventive care visit scheduled for your dog, call your veterinarian’s office and determine how urgent that visit is, or if it can be rescheduled to a later date. Some routine physical exams and routine procedures like dental cleanings may be safely delayed by a couple of months or more, for instance, especially in healthy adult dogs, while other services, such as puppy vaccinations, have to be performed on schedule.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has recommended that veterinarians “consider postponing elective procedures and appointments until recommendations or requirements for social distancing and supply conservation are lifted.” You may find, by calling ahead, that your veterinarian is already implementing these guidelines.
Ask for Curbside or Drop-Off Service at Vet Clinics
For dogs that do need to be seen in the clinic, many veterinary offices have gone to curbside service only, meaning the veterinarian or veterinary technician will meet you and your dog at your car; they will take your dog inside while you remain in your car or otherwise outside the building.
Because you will need to hand your dog’s leash or carrier to veterinary staff, this is a good time to be wearing a face covering and come only close enough to hand off your dog quickly to the staff. Ideally, try to stay at the end of your dog’s six-foot leash, leaving the six feet of distance between you and veterinary staff during the handoff. This is also an opportunity to practice good hand hygiene. If you happen to have hand sanitizer in your car, use it as soon as you get in your car to wait while your dog is inside.
Take care not to touch your face at any time while you are out on this or any other errand. Once you are home, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before doing anything else.
If you’re not sure whether or not your vet is currently offering curbside service, call ahead before your dog’s appointment and ask. If they have not yet gone to offering this service routinely, request that they do so for your appointment.
Pay by Phone and Give Verbal Consent for Documents
In addition to talking to your veterinarian by phone to receive updates on your dog’s care, you can also give verbal consent for any documents that need to be signed, and you can pay any invoices over the phone using a credit card. In short, there is no need for you to go inside the veterinary clinic for these routine transactions, all of which can be accomplished over the phone.
Sanitizing Collars and Leashes
The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found to live on smooth surfaces like metal and plastic for up to 72 hours, so once you return home with your dog, remove collars and leashes and sanitize them using an EPA-approved disinfectant. If a dog carrier or crate was in use and was handled by anyone other than yourself, be sure to disinfect that carrier as well.
Telemedicine involves providing care through electronic means, such as Skype, a mobile app, or a virtual platform designed specifically for this purpose. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, some large veterinary health systems had designed mobile apps that allow 24/7 veterinary access through your mobile device.
Just as telemedicine options for humans have expanded during these times of necessary social distancing, so too have veterinary telemedicine options become more available. The AVMA advises veterinarians to utilize telemedicine when possible for elective cases, noting that “veterinary services must be provided with professionalism and adhering to the same standard of care, whether delivered in person or through electronic means.”
Stay Up to Date
The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, with new information available every day. There are many ways dog owners can stay up to date on the latest news and recommendations. The AKC has a Coping With Coronavirus COVID-19 hub, where you can find resources, ideas, and advice on dealing with the crisis. With the AKC, you know that you are part of a community of dog owners who are all facing this together.
In addition to the AKC’s resources, other respected veterinary medical sites can be a useful source of ongoing information and science-backed advice. Veterinarian JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is the owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company that focuses on pet owner education. She lists the AVMA, the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the CDC as trusted sources of publicly available information that can be of value to dog owners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yasmine S. Ali, MD is a cardiologist and writer in Tennessee, where she lives with three Canine Good Citizens.