Like most businesses, vet practices have had to adapt quickly to the changing government guidance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. As the rapid succession of tighter lockdown measures was announced by the government in late March, the vet profession was rushing to play catch up with the latest recommendations. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) have now advised vets to stop all routine work – such as vaccination, neutering and non-urgent check-ups. However, urgent and emergency pet care will continue, along with vet work essential for the food chain (such as farm animal work and meat inspection).
Are vets open during coronavirus lockdown?
The BVA advice for vets to close for all but emergency and urgent cases means that some smaller branch practices may close entirely. The majority will be open for urgent cases only. The first thing to do is contact a vet practice. Check their website for advice on routine procedures, for example if your pet is due a booster vaccination, regular check-up, or needs medication dispensing.
For anything more urgent vet practices should still be answering phones, or providing an alternative number for you to call to reach another local vet if your regular branch has closed. Vets may be able to tell you over the phone if your pet needs to be seen as an emergency, or they may recommend a video consultation so they can observe your pet at home.
What to do if your pet needs vet care during lockdown
If you think your pet may need vet care, you can first access online symptom-checking tools and apps. These may guide you if you’re not sure if your pet needs to be seen by a vet, for example if your pet has a lump, sniffles, or a weepy eye etc. However, a 2018 survey showed that although more people turn to the internet for pet advice (79% compared to 72% seeking advice from a vet), vet advice is still the most trusted source of information. If you’re in any doubt after searching the web you should contact a vet.
Should you call a vet or do an online consultation?
It's a good idea to speak to a local vet first, as they may already know you and your pet and therefore have access to important clinical records. They may also have their own online consultation service they can offer. By doing so you are helping to support your local vet, as well as speaking directly to the person who may end up examining your pet if the condition is urgent or an emergency.
How does taking a pet to the vet during lockdown work?
The government's advice regarding social distancing applies across the board, so just as you must stand 2m apart at the supermarket checkout, you should not approach veterinary staff. The complicating factor is the need to hand over your animal. Vets may advise you to wait outside the clinic, where your animal will then be collected. If you have symptoms of coronavirus, or live with someone who is showing symptoms, you should tell the vet before visiting the practice. Strict regulations around remote prescribing of medicines have been relaxed in the face of the outbreak, and vets may, in exceptional circumstances, prescribe medication following a video consultation.
What are the measures to follow when taking your pet to the vets?
The BVA's advice to vets is that owners should wait in the car/outside and call when they've arrived. A member of staff will then collect your pet from outside the practice. They will take your pet inside and examine it, then give you a telephone call to discuss and agree on treatment, and take any payment over the phone. Make sure your phone has plenty of charge! Vets have been advised to follow social distancing, strict biosecurity and wearing of PPE at all times.
For pets that may need to be euthanised (put to sleep) this can be distressing for you as an owner, your pet and the vet team. Vets may recommend heavily sedating your pet in your car to allow you to say goodbye, or they may suggest you observe from a window where possible. It’s important to talk to the vet about any concerns you have, but remember they have been advised to take measures to put the safety of their staff and other clients first.
Can the vet come to my home during lockdown?
Many owners and pets prefer to be visited at home, especially if your pet is being put to sleep. However, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons who regulate UK vets, have said they do not expect vet staff to undertake home visits to an infected household unless: it is essential for animal welfare; the risk can be adequately controlled (for example if the animal is placed outside the home upon the veterinary surgeon’s arrival); appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) is worn; and there is no other way the animal can be brought to the practice.
Please think carefully about asking your vet to expose themselves to potential risk, and only request a home visit if it is absolutely necessary to prevent your pet from suffering.