Good Dog’s guide to veterinary care during COVID-19 pandemic

How can you access appropriate veterinary care for your dogs during COVID-19? Here's everything you need to know to keep your dogs healthy.

by Dr. Judi Stella, PhD - Head of Standards & Research at Good Dog

How has Covid-19 affected veterinary care?

To date, veterinary medicine has been deemed an essential business in all states where state of emergency and stay at home orders have been put in place. However, the services veterinary clinics provide are generally limited to emergencies and urgent care for seriously ill or injured pets. This is both to minimize the risk of the virus spreading to the veterinary care staff and other clients and to decrease the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is in critically short supply in hospitals across the country. With these continuing changes in veterinary care, it is best to call ahead to be sure your veterinarian is open and able to see your dog. As we will discuss below, veterinarians are dedicated to taking care of their patients and are adapting to the pandemic in order to do so.

Telemedicine Appointments

One new approach being taken is increasing the use of telemedicine. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines telemedicine as “the use of a tool to exchange medical information electronically from one site to another to improve a patient's clinical health status.” Telemedicine is commonly completed through a video chat with a licensed veterinarian.

Telemedicine services are an option only where a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) has been established by hands-on examination of your dog by your veterinarian with the VCPR typically valid for one year before the dog needs another in-person exam. However, due to the pandemic, exceptions have been made and this provision has been waived or modified in many parts of the country. Regulations on telemedicine vary by state, but for the most part the veterinarian needs to be licensed in the state where the client resides and where they are providing medical care. If there is a VPCR, veterinarians can conduct a video “exam” or discuss the condition with you over the phone. They are able to offer advice and prescribe medication such as antibiotics or pain medication for you to treat minor conditions at home. Or in the case of more serious conditions, they may advise you to seek veterinary care at the clinic.

Dr. Brian Greenfield, veterinarian at Animal Clinic Northview, says “Now in Ohio, and most states are following suit, we are allowed to have a telemedicine conversation about a dog we haven't physically touched in the last year. This is going to be short term I'm guessing. We are urging our clients to call us and to have a conversation over the phone, to send pictures or to have a video chat… I think it's valuable in situations like ‘my dog is limping, how concerned should I be?’ or at least to have a conversation if they really need to seek emergency care.“

Check with your veterinary clinic to see if they are offering telemedicine visits. If your veterinarian does not have telemedicine video capabilities, they might still provide email or telephone based consultations. If your veterinarian is not offering telemedicine care, there are several telehealth based veterinary care providers that can offer advice. However, since they have not ever seen your pet and they may not be licensed in the state where you reside, they will only be able to offer advice as to whether or not you need to seek care- they will not be able to prescribe any medication.

Common ailments where telemedicine might be a good option

  • Basic triage to determine whether your pet needs an in-person visit
  • Dermatologic (skin) concerns
  • Minor eye or ear infections
  • Behavioral issues
  • Suture Assessment/Post Surgery Rechecks
  • Coughing/Sneezing
  • Minor wounds

Emergencies where telemedicine is not a good option

  • Ingested a toxin: Call Animal Poison Control | (888) 426-4435
  • Open wound
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea (especially if blood is seen)
  • Severe distention of the abdomen
  • Neurologic signs such as seizures, tremors, stumbling, circling, disorientation
  • Pale gums, bruising on the body, bulging eyes, squinting eyes, holding head to one side
  • Abnormal behavior

Curbside Drop Off Appointments

Most veterinary hospitals have gone to curbside dropoff appointments (described in detail below) in order to minimize the risk of infection for both their staff and clients. By closing waiting rooms, veterinary clinics ensure everyone can practice social distancing. “We've gone to 100% curbside with the exception of end of life care or animals that no one can safely handle,” says Dr. Greenfield.“Those are the only exceptions that we will allow an outside person in our building right now.”

What happens during a curbside appointment? Dr. Greenfield explains: “Our staff that is doing curbside is wearing PPE, so a mask and gloves, and they're going out front with a slip-lead so we're not taking the owner’s leash. The handoff happens outside the clinic or right outside the front door where you can pretty much maintain social distancing. We've also told our clients that if you're sick then please do not come in. The same goes for our staff. The advice is to wear some PPE during the handoff and to not touch the owners stuff. So what we're doing is PPE, washing hands, fresh leashes, maintaining 6 feet as best we can.”

If you have a small dog or puppy in a crate, take the crate out of your car, place it on the ground and step back at least 6 feet so the team member can get it. The veterinary care team will do their exam and be in touch with you by phone during the appointment. You may be asked to pay on-line to further minimize exposure to the virus. If you are not feeling well or showing any signs of Covid-19 please have someone else take your dog to the clinic. If that is not possible, wear a mask and communicate to the clinic staff so they can take additional precautions as necessary. Make a backup plan now for who will be able to help with your dog(s) in the situations so you’re ready ahead of time.

This will likely be scary for some dogs — they are not used to seeing people in masks and you will not be with them to comfort them. If you have a shy, fearful or anxious dog, be sure to alert the veterinary care team. You may want to consider exposing your dogs to people in masks and muzzle training your dogs in case it is necessary for an exam. Ask the staff to offer food treats during the exam to help lesson the dog’s anxiety. In some cases, medicating your dog at home prior to the appointment may be indicated. Please speak with your veterinarian now if you think this may be needed in case of an emergency or urgent care situation.

Tip: To the extent possible provide all the information the care team will need to assess your dog prior to the appointment. Have all your questions ready for the veterinarian as their time may be limited.

How does this impact breeders?

The limited access to veterinary care may mean disruptions in how you normally care for your adult dogs and puppies. The potential for difficulty in obtaining veterinary care and lack of elective services should be considered when making breeding decisions for future litters during the pandemic. Be sure to discuss options with your veterinary care team, including access to artificial insemination, pre-breeding exams and diagnostics (e.g. thyroid and brucellosis tests), and the ability to conduct screening tests such as cardiac and eye exams with specialists.

1. Health Testing

In general, health testing for breeding dogs is not available right now. Mobile clinics have been canceled and veterinary hospitals are not seeing routine appointments for x-rays for hip and elbow dysplasia, cardiac and eye evaluations. One thing that is still available is genetic testing. Testing companies will send the test kit directly to your home and you can send the sample back to them while adhering to stay at home orders and safely do some health testing during the pandemic.

2. Whelping and C-sections

Many bitches will whelp naturally but you never know when she may have unforeseen complications. During these unusual times you can’t be too prepared. Alert your veterinarian so they know when your litter is due and be sure to have a plan in place for any emergencies or urgent care your bitch and puppies may need.

Some breeds require a c-section for the health of the bitch so it’s important to be sure you’ll be able to obtain one when needed. C-sections would fall into the category of urgent care and most veterinarians will do the surgery if possible. Stay in close contact with your veterinary team to plan for the delivery, be prepared for a curbside drop-off and any other safety measures that may be in place, and have a backup clinic available. Things are continuing to change quickly so your original plan may not be viable when the time comes for the surgery, which is why it is best to have another clinic that you have spoken with and who is aware of your situation, in case your veterinarian is unavailable due to illness, lack of supplies, or other unforeseen circumstances. If you live in a more remote area you may need to be prepared to drive some distance to obtain veterinary care.

3. Preventive Care for Adult Dogs

Routine care including vaccines for adult dogs, heartworm testing, and dental cleanings are all on hold right now. Dr. Greenfield says “We're recommending that you postpone things that can be postponed.” For healthy adult dogs, this should not be a problem; vaccine immunity likely lasts longer than 3 years so delaying a few months is not a concern. One exception is rabies: since this is a fatal zoonotic disease (can be passed to humans)l, many areas of the country are not making exceptions due to Covid, so check with your veterinary care team and local laws. Continue giving heartworm, flea and tick preventatives as directed and get in for an annual exam as soon as you can after the restrictions have been lifted.

4. Puppy Care

While some veterinary clinics are providing preventive care for puppies, communication with your veterinary care team will be essential to ensuring you will be able to get all necessary puppy care. Let your veterinarian know when your litter is due and have a plan in place for any emergencies or urgent care for your puppies as well as for dewclaw removal and tail docking. Be prepared for a curbside dropoff appointment for the puppies to have these procedures.

“We are telling our breeders who have puppies that need vaccines that we will do it, but we won't let them in the building,” says Dr. Greenfield. “So they will come to the front of the building and we will wheel them in or our staff will take them in a safe manner. We'll get them on the phone and do telemedicine stuff while we're examining and complete their visit, then they'll drive around to the side of the building where we see them out and bring their dogs out.”

You may want to consider giving vaccinations yourself at home or delaying the first puppy vaccine. “The exam can wait,” says Dr. Greenfield. “There's nothing life-threatening about an exam that's a week late, but there is something life-threatening about a parvo shot. So, my advice would be to wait as long as they can wait, which would be 8 weeks of age, which is when most people feel maternal antibodies are pretty much gone.“ Watch a video on how to vaccinate your dogs and pups at home here.

Note: Physical examination for a health certificate is not considered an urgent veterinary care issue. Many veterinary clinics are not scheduling exams for health certificates. However, the requirement for a health certificate to transport puppies has not been loosened due to the pandemic. This means that you may need to hold puppies until the restrictions have been lifted and it is safe to resume these activities.

How does this impact puppy buyers?

Puppy buyers may be confronted with the same challenges as breeders in accessing care for their new companions. Therefore, if your contract stipulates that the puppy is examined by a veterinarian within 48-72 hours of pick-up, you may want to consider amending it. If you have any questions about this or need any assistance, please feel free to email breederteam@gooddog.com.

Be sure to communicate about these challenges with your puppy buyers. That way, they'll be able to have a plan in place ahead of time for both routine and emergency veterinary care.

Being Prepared for At-Home Care or Emergencies

We may not have much control over what is happening in these trying times, but we can take measures to be prepared to care for our dogs. Hopefully you won't need to use it, but having some basic first aid supplies on hand will be essential during a telemedicine appointment and for at-home care. Here are some basic supplies to have on hand.

  • A smart device that provides necessary video, audio, and data transfer abilities. Examples include laptops, tablets, and most smartphones.
  • Your dog’s veterinary records
  • Gauze rolls, non-stick wrap (e.g. Vet Wrap), non-stick gauze pads, medical tape or adhesive tape
  • Hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, antiseptic spray or ointment (e.g. Neosporin)
  • Milk of Magnesia or activated charcoal (in case of accidental poisoning)
  • Loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea, Calcium carbonate (Tums), Pedialyte
  • Eye wash or saline solution
  • Digital thermometer, scissors, tweezers and magnifying glass (to remove ticks)
  • Syringes or droppers for cleaning wounds and giving medication
  • Towel and muzzle

In the case you are unable to care for your dogs, a kit with all the essential information and supplies needed to care for them in an easily accessible place is very important to have on hand for their temporary caretaker. Here are some things to include.

  • Name and contact information for the designated temporary caretaker and a backup
  • At least a 2 week supply of food and treats
  • Medications with directions and prescriptions
  • Leash, collar (with tags and microchip info), toys, crate and any other comfort items
  • Vaccination and medical records and your veterinarians contact information
  • Instructions for daily care

If you have any questions or need any help with veterinary care, please reach out to breederteam@gooddog.com anytime and one of our breeder specialists will help you.

When should you seek veterinary care for your dog?

This is not a comprehensive list and is meant to be a guide. You know your dog best, so when in doubt, contact your veterinarian.

Emergency- call your veterinary care team and get your dog treatment ASAP

Urgent- seek veterinary advice via a phone call or telemed appointment

Monitor- if symptoms persist or worsen seek veterinary care

Vet Guide Table