Tuesday, July 13, 2021

How can pet owners get the most out of low and no-contact veterinary visits


Socially distant dog (c) Anne Quain
Social distancing in veterinary settings is critical to ensure ongoing veterinary care.

New South Wales, the state from which this blog comes to you, is in hard lockdown. That means hardship for many people, but it also means the return of low and no-contact veterinary visits.

Low and no-contact veterinary visits are designed to maximise social distancing between all humans involved to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

You can still take your companion animal to the vet.

But the experience may be different to the vet visits you are used to.

At the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic I undertook research on ethically challengingsituations encountered by veterinary teams. One of the major issues that emerged was being able to attend to animals (our core work) while also keeping ourselves and our families safe. Low and no-contact consultations, and confusion associated these, was one cause of stress.

So, how can companion animal owners access necessary care for their animals while also ensuring the safety of veterinary team members?

1.     Let the vet team know you are coming.

Book ahead for an appointment or, if a genuine emergency, phone and let the team know that you are coming.

Different clinics may have different protocols, for example some may require you to wait with your animal while others may allow you to drop off animals.

2.     Prepare in advance.

Veterinarians usually take a history when they see a companion animal. This isn’t just chit-chat – it includes vital information which directs assessment of the patient and further investigations.

Broadly, a history can be divided into two parts:

General history.

This includes general information about a companion animal including what they are normally fed (meals, snacks AND treats); their normal activity levels and exercise routines; and lifestyle factors, for example whether they are indoors or outdoors, have contact with other animals or have a history of travel. This also includes medication (including complementary and alternative medicines) and supplements taken. Where possible it helps to provide the name of the medication, the dose and how often it is given (e.g. ½ of a 50mg tablet morning and night). Finally, if your pet has any allergies (for example to medication) or intolerances (for example to food) it helps to know this in advance.

Specific history.

This relates to the reason for coming in. What is the problem or problems? When did it begin? What are the symptoms you have noticed and how have they progressed? Were there any changes in the lead up to the onset of symptoms? (For example, I saw a dog with a three-day history of vomiting. The day before that, she was fed a leg of lamb).

Our research revealed that communication between veterinary team members and clients is more challenging during the time of COVID. For example, some veterinary team members reported that it was hard to hear or be heard clearly while wearing masks; others struggled in non-contact consultations because neither they nor the client could point to an area on the animal’s body.

If you have multiple concerns that you want addressed, write it down. This helps reduce miscommunication.

If symptoms are intermittent, infrequent or episodic (like coughing or limping that comes and goes) it can be useful to take a video to share with your veterinary team. If there is a concern relating to a site on the patient’s body (for example, a wound or a lump) it can be helpful to take photos – both from a distance and also close up.

3.     Be proactive.

If your pet is typically very fearful or shows signs of reactivity (e.g. barking, growling, lunging, licking lips or muzzle) or aggression in a veterinary setting, let the team know so they can work with you to plan the best strategy.

4.     Follow the Government advice.

If you are sick, awaiting the results of a COVID test or isolating, have someone else bring your animal to the vet, or contact your veterinary team for advice.

Just like anywhere else, if you do enter a veterinary facility, wear a mask, sanitise your hands and check in using the QR code provided.

It is important that your mask stays on even when you are talking. Often people want to remove their mask when they are speaking to ensure they speak clearly – but you need to avoid doing so.

Wherever possible, only ONE person should accompany the animal to the vet.

5.     Please be patient.

Right now, veterinary clinics may be very busy. This is due to a number of factors including: staff shortages; increased staff absenteeism (for example, due to COVID testing and isolation); a large number of animal adoptions during the pandemic and the need to minimise foot traffic in veterinary hospitals.

While you wait, please practice social distancing, i.e. don’t gather with other waiting clients.

You may need to wait outside of the building – please ensure all pets are contained (cats in carriers, dogs on leads); and bring a book.

Make sure your phone is charged and switched on.