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Veterinarian examining dog's eyes in the clinic

How can I prepare my veterinary practice for COVID-19?

Managing a large-scale public health crisis can stress every part of a community—from hospital and emergency resources to grocers, pharmacies, and supply chains. Although pets cannot catch or become ill from COVID-19, veterinarians are seeing a dramatic increase in coronavirus-related questions and concerns from clients.

During the currently evolving COVID-19 crisis, consistent, reliable information is essential to minimize the impact of the virus. Here’s a brief recap of what we was presented during the COVID-19 Veterinary Summit:

COVID-19 Transmission

The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 can be transmitted from human-to-human and does not seem to affect companion animals. Transmission occurs primarily through droplets that are exhaled, sneezed, ort coughed into the environment by an infected person. The virus can also survive on objects for up to 72 hours, which is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is encouraging regular handwashing, regular cleaning of common surfaces like countertops and handrails, and avoiding crowded places.

Though there have been reports of three pets (2 in Hong Kong and 1 in Belgium) testing weakly positive COVID-19, it is believed that these cases resulted from close contact with a human that had the virus. The animals themselves have remained well and have displayed no symptoms. There is also no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats can transmit the virus.

COVID-19 Precautions for Your Practice

For the general public, the CDC recommends social distancing measures (such as avoiding crowded places, staying more than 6 feet from others, and staying home except to obtain essential groceries, medicine, or exercise).

Basic Precautions for Veterinary Clinics

Here are basic precautions for veterinarians that can help keep you and your clients safer:

  • Limit patient care to emergency cases—such as acutely ill or severely injured animals—and postpone well-animal and non-emergent care until after the outbreak.
  • Use personal protective gear—such as masks, gloves, and gowns—to keep your staff healthy. There are current shortages of such supplies, but manufacturers are attempting to meet the sudden increase in demand by prioritizing health care facilities.
  • Manage waiting room overcrowding by seeing some clients/patients in their vehicles rather than inside the clinic.
  • Use online or telemedicine to diagnose illness and prescribe meds.
  • Stay informed by frequently checking the CDC’s website.

Keeping Your Team Healthy

Vets know that their most vital assets are their team members—the veterinary technicians and office staff that help keep their practice at peak performance. Maintaining a healthy staff is one way to prevent viral transmission while continuing to care for patients and see clients.

General guidelines:

  • Keep team members home if they feel ill. There is as yet no vaccine against COVID-19, so avoiding exposure is key.
  • Team members should practice social distancing by maintaining 6 ft. of distance between themselves and clients (particularly from those who are symptomatic).
  • Maintain a strict hand-washing regimen. The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”) with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your face. This is a basic preventive strategy for everyone, but is especially critical for those in healthcare.
  • Master “the elbow cough.” Avoid coughing into your hands.
  • Disinfect frequently. Rinse or spray hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Dispose of any used tissues, gloves, or other potentially contaminated items quickly and safely.

Conclusion

While the course of the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, remain patient and calm. Life will be different, and routines will be interrupted for a while. Adaptability and resilience have always been hallmarks of human society, and we will meet this challenge as we have met others—with determination, compassion, and perseverance.

Note: The best source for accurate, updated information is the CDC’s website.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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