While times are uncertain during today’s pandemic, life still goes on—which means there’s a chance your pet may need veterinary care. Fortunately, animal care providers are considered an essential business, which means your pet can see a veterinarian in case of emergency. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has helped veterinarians come up with safety protocols and guidelines to ensure clients and staff remain healthy. One of the AVMA’s primary recommendations? Veterinary telehealth—and here’s how it can work for your pet.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth allows veterinarians to use technology to make health recommendations and educate owners over the phone or computer. It allows people to stay home during the current COVID-19 crisis and can help many pets. 

Two weeks after declaring a national emergency in the United States due to COVID-19, the Food and Drug administration temporarily suspended certain requirements related to veterinary telehealth. Veterinarians can now prescribe medications without conducting a physical exam.

Telehealth allows veterinarians to practice better social distancing while still providing veterinary care. It is also critical to keep veterinarians safe, because if they have an outbreak, the clinic may have to be closed which would affect other community members.

What Can Telehealth Treat?

Barring life-threatening emergencies, telehealth can help animals under most circumstances, though a veterinarian may still recommend an animal be seen. Here are some situations when telehealth is appropriate: (Note: Each individual provider will have their own recommendations.)

-   Itchy skin and skin infections

-    Mild ear infections

-    Mild eye discharge

-    Diarrhea or vomiting

o   If only a few episodes and patient seems to be happy and feeling well

o   Flare up of chronic diarrhea or vomiting

-    Recheck of surgical incisions that are healing well and do not require stitches to be removed

-    Mild respiratory symptoms such as nasal discharge

-    Noticeable parasites in stool

-    Management of chronic diseases, such as hypothyroidism, where blood work may be able to be postponed if:

o   Your pet is doing well

o   Medication dosages were not changed at last visit

o   Not diagnosed with condition within the last month

-    Rechecks of mild limping if x-rays were already taken and there is improvement

-    Quality of life consults

-    Nutrition consults

-    Anxiety or other behavioral issues

A treatment plan with medication or nutrition may be prescribed over telehealth. These medications may be able to be called into a pharmacy, ordered online or picked up at the veterinary office. Telehealth will also educate the owner on what to monitor, and if the pet has not improved, when to seek urgent care. 

A veterinarian can also use video calls to look at your pet and do an exam from a distance if there is something you would like to point out. You can also email videos and photos to your veterinarian, to obtain as much information as possible.

Telehealth can help get your pet up to speed.

If you have to go to the veterinarian:

Many veterinary hospitals that have remained open are going “curbside,” which means clients are not able to enter the building. Staff will take pets into the hospital, and all correspondence (including your veterinarian’s findings and recommendations) will be done via phone. Some clinics are open for medication pickups, too. 

First things first: Before bringing your pet to the vet during this world crisis, ask yourself if the appointment is essential and worth the risk. If your pet’s situation isn’t emergent, it may be wise to start with telehealth.  

Resources: Commissioner, Office of the. “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Helps Facilitate Veterinary Telemedicine During Pandemic.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 24 Mar. 2020. “COVID-19: Protecting Your Veterinary Team during the Pandemic.” American Veterinary Medical Association, Mar. 2020. “Veterinary Telehealth: The Basics.” American Veterinary Medical Association. Photos: Top: Ayla Verschueren Middle: Yucel Moran Bottom: Alvan Nee

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