If your dog is having digestion trouble or your fish has started fainting, chances are you’ll be taking your pet to a veterinarian who has modified their services to ensure the safety of their clients and staff during the Covid pandemic. Like all of us, veterinarians have had to make changes in their normal operating procedures. For most veterinary practices, this means no more clients in the office, curbside drop-off of pets, and an increase in phone or video consultations.
In early March, the FDA eased restrictions on veterinarians to allow for more telemedicine and virtual visits. In California, veterinarians have been issued waivers through July to allow them to perform many exams remotely as long as your pet is an existing patient, and many prescription refills have been extended by six extra months without the requirement for an in-person appointment. If you're visiting a veterinarian for the first time, you'll still have to go to the office, but most locations will not allow owners inside the practice. The California Veterinary Medical Association is recommending its members minimize contact with their clients.
A typical vet visit will include calling the office to let you know that you’ve arrived, and preparing for a tech to come to your car to take notes on the issues your dog might be suffering from. Once your pup is ready to be handed off, they’ll have to go into the office without you. Many of our dogs have some anxiety about visiting the veterinarian, and going into the office without you might be a scary idea (for both of you!).
With both in-person drop-offs and virtual calls or telemedicine, your vet will rely on your ability to communicate the issues that your dog is having. A better understanding of your dog will help you know when it’s time to call a vet, and when a drop-off is needed instead of a video call.
How Well Do You REALLY Know Your Dog?
Fluffy’s favorite cookie? Anything with bacon. Bed time is promptly at 9:30, and he prefers a walkie before breakfast. You know what your dog loves, and you can probably tell when he’s acting “normal” and when he isn’t feeling well, but how can you articulate those subtle changes to your veterinarian without being in the office with them? In a time where many of us are reluctant to take trips that might not be necessary, how can you make the distinction between an issue that can wait for a call and one that requires an immediate trip?
Establishing a Baseline
Being an active participant in your pet's care and health monitoring can help alert you to small changes that should be brought to your veterinarian.
Throughout your dog’s life, you should work to establish a “Baseline” of vitals and keep notes on any lumps, bumps, or “normal abnormalities” that you’ve found. If your dog had a cyst or bump that was examined last year and is benign, you should know its size and position so that you can alert the vet if anything changes. Knowing every bit of your dog, from gums to toenails, will help you make an informed decision about their care.
In addition to routinely checking for lumps and bumps, it is important to know your dog's normal respiratory and heart rate.
Dr. Sonya Gordon notes that normal breathing rate is between 15-30 breaths a minute when resting calmly or sleeping. It is considered normal for breathing rates to be much higher than this when dogs and cats are hot, stressed or active. Resting/sleeping breathing rates that are consistently greater than 30 breaths per minute are increased and considered abnormal. For some individuals, rates lower than 30 breaths per minute may be considered increased and abnormal by your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian what rate is considered increased and abnormal for your dog.
Normal heart rate for a small or medium-sized dog is between 70 and 140 beats per minute. A large dog's normal heart rate is between 50 and 120 beats per minute.
If your pet is ever in distress, it’s important to be familiar with their normal vital signs. Knowing how to periodically check and record normal pet vital signs is a smart idea; not only will it give you and your furry family member some practice doing it, but you’ll be able to use the numbers as a baseline of what’s “normal” for your pet in case of an injury or illness.
The three main vitals you want to measure are the heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature.
Preparing for a Drop-Off
If you and your vet have decided your dog needs an in-person visit, it’s important to be prepared to make the handoff as painless as possible.
· If you have a small dog, consider handing them off in a crate instead of on leash, if your vet will allow it. Your dog might be reluctant to walk with a stranger, and may not be comfortable being picked up.
· Desensitize your dog to being approached and handled by people wearing masks.
· Be sure to have your dog in a properly fitted collar or harness, or ask the veterinary technician to use a slip lead to make sure your dog can’t slip out of their collar.
· Practice absence and independence training. Separation anxiety can be an issue if your dog will have to stay at the vet office without out.
· Practice crate training. Even if you don’t crate at home, it’s important that your dog can be comfortable in being crated—especially if they have to stay overnight.
· Don’t make it a big deal. Try to keep your anxiety in check, and don’t make the handoff to at the vet’s office a big deal for your pet.