By Jennifer Egger, Snohomish Health District
Pets are members of our family, so making sure that they are healthy and happy is important. Right now, our local veterinarians are working hard to keep their patients, clinics and employees safe from potential exposure to COVID-19. Because of this, your normal visit to the vet might look a little different. Here are some tips on what to expect when you need to seek care for your pet.
When to make an appointment
Veterinary clinics are currently moving toward re-opening all services for their patients. However, many are still postponing non-urgent procedures, so you may be asked to reschedule some care. That doesn’t mean routine care needs to be delayed for your pet. Please call your pet’s doctor if you need to know what types of appointments, tests and procedures they are able to provide at this time. If your animal has a need for an emergency visit, call your vet immediately. They will advise you on how to get treatment. Veterinary practices are working to serve your pets in the safest and most responsible way, and they may also have remote options for advising you on your pet’s routine or non-urgent care. They will be able to help point you in the right direction regarding when and how your animal should be seen.
Visiting your veterinary clinic
Many local veterinarians have developed new procedures to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. When you make an appointment for your pet, they should advise you on what these new practices are. Some clinics may ask you to stay in your car so that they can pick up or examine your animal directly from your vehicle. Because social distancing may be difficult in this situation, please wear a face covering to reduce the risk of spreading illness. Make sure that your animal is either leashed or in a clean, portable crate for easy transfer if needed. Do not send blankets or toys with your pet. When you pick up your animal after their visit, make sure you clean their crate with pet-safe antibacterial wipes or spray.
Your doctor may also suggest telemedicine as an alternative to an in-person appointment. With telemedicine visits, vets can either speak to you over the phone or via video conferencing to determine what kind of treatment your animal needs. Please ask your animal’s care provider if this is an option that might work for you.
At this time, there is evidence that our pets are at low risk of catching or sharing COVID-19. More research is being done to determine how the disease may spread to or from dogs and cats. It does not appear at this time that companion animals are at high risk of getting or spreading the virus, but it’s important to be cautious because we still are learning about the virus that causes COVID-19.
Veterinarians are not currently testing pets for COVID-19 unless they have close contact such as being in a household with someone who has a confirmed case AND show significant symptoms, which are fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, nasal/ocular discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea. Clinics are following expert advice from the CDC regarding how to proceed in the case that a pet needs additional testing or care for this condition. If an animal needs to be tested, veterinarians must work with the proper state authorities, namely the Washington State Veterinarian, to authorize that testing. More information on that is available on the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s website.
When making an appointment for your animal, it’s important to let clinic staff know if it has been exposed to someone with COVID-19. If you have recently tested positive or are exhibiting symptoms of the disease, we recommend that you isolate yourself from other humans and animals in your household. People who have tested positive should try to restrict contact with pets until they are recovered. If you can, establish a caregiver for your pet in the event that you are unable to do so. Make sure that you have written instructions that include your pet’s diet, habits and any medications.
Keeping your pet safe
There are some simple steps we recommend in order to help keep your pet safe from potential COVID-19 exposure.
- All animals carry germs. Please follow the CDC’s “Healthy Pets, Healthy People” guidelines regarding proper interactions with pets.
- Owners should not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household.
- Maintain at least six feet of distance from other people or animals when walking your dogs. Avoid dog parks or public gathering places, particularly if they are crowded.
- Keep cats indoors when possible.
- Service animals should be permitted to remain with their handlers, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you have any questions about the health or safety of your animals, please contact your veterinarian for guidance. They will be able to help you make the best decisions about how and when care is needed and address other concerns regarding COVID-19 and your pets.