COVID-19: How will your veterinary experience change?

How does COVID-19 affect your vet clinic?

Veterinary clinics in Saskatchewan were declared essential services and local clinics remained open for business. However, many changes were made to keep staff, clients, and patients safe. These changes are based on the number of staff, the size of the building, availability of supplies, and the medical urgency of the visit. Vet clinics are typically small businesses with a small staff that have overlapping shifts, and work in tight quarters—as exam rooms and surgery suites do not allow for adequate physical distancing. If one staff member were to test positive, chances are that all the staff would be required to isolate.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used regularly in veterinary medicine. Surgical gloves, exam gloves, and procedure masks are all used daily. Early in the pandemic, supplies from veterinary medicine were diverted to the human medicine supply chain. As companies catch up with production, veterinary clinics have needed to ensure that there is enough on hand to keep staff and patients safe. This has been a factor in postponing non-urgent procedures.

Many medications are used in both human and veterinary medicine. Although medication shortages are currently not an issue, it is a factor that is being closely monitored by both sides to ensure that it does not become a problem.

How will your vet visit change?

Expect to not stay with your pet. Whether you are allowed inside the waiting area, or if your clinic is functioning with car side pick-up, limiting contact with clinic staff means your pet will be ferried between you and the medical team.

You might need to book a later appointment. Non-urgent appointments may be booked for a later date as the pandemic progresses. With limited staff, appointment time also is limited, urgent cases need to be prioritized. Appointment times for evenings or weekends may not be offered in order to keep staff safe.

Can the vet just send home medication?

The short answer is probably not. In order to prescribe medication, a valid VCPR (veterinary-client-patient-relationship) needs to exist. This includes a hands-on exam of the patient. Even with a valid VPCR, many conditions require veterinarians to be able to see, feel, or smell what is going on with your pet. Diagnostic tests also require specialized equipment and skills to be able to treat patients safely and effectively. Telemedicine, with the supplement of photos and video from owners, can be an option in certain cases but is typically not a valid replacement for in-person examination.

When will it go back to normal?

Until the prescribed provincial government regulations regarding physical distancing during the pandemic, or a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, the extra precautions will remain. As outlined above, veterinary clinics are not ideal for effective physical distancing practices, and need to work in conjunction with human medicine when it comes to PPE and medication supply chains. Your veterinary team bases their decisions on available scientific evidence as well as the recommended restrictions of the provincial veterinary association.

Provided by Meaghan R. West, RVT