by Dianne Cook, LVT
Like it or not, COVID-19 has altered the way most of us conduct our day-to-day lives. As a devoted pet parent, one of the unexpected changes you may encounter is the necessity for curbside veterinary care. While some may prefer this option, many pet parents would rather be present during your little one’s exam. Unfortunately, the close quarters of many veterinary clinics put staff and pet parents at a greater risk of spreading and contracting the virus so extra precautionary steps must be taken. Though not as personal as sharing a face-to-face conversation with your favorite vet, veterinary clinics across the world are doing their very best to continue to foster close relationships with pet parents while ensuring the health and safety of all involved. While curbside routines are quite a bit different than pre-pandemic vet visits, coming prepared will increase the chance of the visit going as smooth and pleasant as possible for both you and your little one.
When you call to make an appointment, ask about the clinic’s pandemic protocol. Inquire if there have been any changes to the parking procedures. Ask they are still taking cash, or if credit/debit card or electronic payment is required. Clarify what will happen during drop-off and whether you will be asked to stay in the parking lot until the veterinarian has completed their exam or if you can/should leave and wait to be contacted when your pet is ready to be picked up. You may be asked questions regarding your travel history, health status, and if you’ve been exposed to anyone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19. Please be honest with the staff when they ask these questions. If you or someone in your house as COVID symptoms or have recently had contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, it is best not to take your pet to the vet unless it is an emergency. The more information and questions you share up front will only help your veterinary clinic provide the best possible experience.
What to Expect
There are no regulated standards, so curbside protocols vary from clinic-to-clinic, state-to-state, and country-to-country, but there are often similarities that overlap. Once you’ve reached your vet’s office and have called to announce to your arrival, a veterinary professional (most likely a veterinary assistant or veterinary technician) donning a mask and gloves will come to your car to gather preliminary information and take your pet inside the clinic. While you wait in your car your veterinarian will perform their physical exam and review the clinical notes that were taken curbside. Once they have completed this process, they will likely call or come out to your car themselves to discuss their thoughts and potential treatment options (if necessary).
This interaction may seem much more formal and impersonal than the warm reception you’re likely used to, and the overall visit may take a bit longer than it would have under “normal” circumstances but that does not mean your pet’s examination and treatment will be any less complete. It is important to remember the protocols are in place with everyone’s safety in mind and the veterinary staff misses the personal exchanges with you just as much as you miss them. It is important to remember this interaction, while inconvenient, is allowing your fur baby to still receive the best possible care under these unique circumstances. While extended wait times and unusual protocols can be frustrating, there are a few steps you can take as a pet parent to help ensure your curbside visit goes smoothly.
Put Your Patient Pants On
As mentioned, it is likely your visit, even if it’s just for a routine wellness exam, will take longer than you are used to. Please be prepared for an extended wait. You are not being asked to wait out of discourtesy, but simply because the necessary safety precautions often require additional time. The time it takes to properly sanitize, put on masks and gloves, and walk to and from the car is much longer than the time it takes to simply wash hands between exam rooms. The wait time can be further amplified if pet parents arrive unprepared as it often results in a lot of unnecessary “back-and-forth”. In the end, while inconvenient, your veterinarian’s new protocols are designed to keep you, your pet, and the veterinary health care team as safe as possible.
Just like you, everyone at your vet’s office wants to make sure you get the most out of your visit. Veterinarians and their team understand a trip to the vet can be an incredibly stressful experience for both you and your exotic mammal companions. As a result, it is in everyone’s best interest if the visit is as streamlined as possible. One of the easiest ways pet parents can ensure this is to bring the following 10 things with you to the appointment.
- Identification – bringing a current ID, such as a valid driver’s license, is always a good idea.
- Species Appropriate Carrier – it’s important your little ones are transported safely. Because frightened animals can be difficult to handle, the easiest way to ensure their safety is to make sure they are transported in a clean carrier that is appropriate for their size and species. There should be adequate bedding or nesting material within the carrier to provide your little one with an added layer of comfort as they wait. Please ensure the exterior and handles of the carrier have recently been disinfected to minimize potential viral exposure to the staff.
- Snacks – it is imperative our small herbivore friends have ready access to a mound of hay to nibble on in their carrier while they wait to be seen, but all small mammals (even omnivorous species) can benefit from the comfort of their favorite foods. Bring along a few high-quality, pre-packaged treats or a small offering of your kiddo’s favorite greens or veggies. Often the distraction of a favored snack is helpful as your veterinarian performs their exam or any unpleasant treatments (like those ever-dreaded nail trims). Because you may be hanging out in your car for a while, it doesn’t hurt to bring a snack for yourself as well.
- Water – though the clinic will likely have bowls for water inside the hospital, beyond the fact it is possible you and your furry friend will be waiting in the car for a while before being seen, it is generally best to use your own water supply. Hanging a small bottle of fresh water from the door of your pet’s carrier is an easy way to ensure they stay well hydrated while they wait to greet the vet.
- List of Concerns – it is easy to forget important details, especially if you’re feeling rushed or frustrated. Before heading to your pet’s appointment, take a moment to write down all your concerns and any questions you may have for your veterinarian. If your pet is sick or acting abnormally, they may mask their symptoms while at the vet, so a detailed account of your concerns can help ensure your veterinarian doesn’t inadvertently miss something. If you are able, take a short video of your pet displaying worrisome symptoms or behaviors at home.
- Medical Records – if you’re visiting a new vet for the first time, if your pet was recently seen by a specialist, or if you’ve recently taken a trip to an emergency vet, bring all medical records along. Better yet, request to have your pet’s medical records emailed or faxed prior to your appointment so your veterinarian can review. If you’re unable to find the records, or you forgot to have the records forwarded, make sure to write down the name of the clinic(s) and the veterinarian(s) you saw so your current veterinarian can call and request copies.
- Medications – bring any and all medications you are giving your pet, whether prescription or over the counter. This includes any preventatives or supplements. If you’d rather not bring the medications with you, take a picture or write down the names and current dosages.
- Diet – be prepared to provide detailed dietary information. It is incredibly important to be honest and transparent about everything you are feeding your little one. Write down the name of the diet you are feeding and the volume of food you provide. This includes a list of any and all hay varieties, treats, and/or supplemental foods (greens, veggies, fruits, etc.) to which your kiddo has access. If you’d prefer not to write everything down, photos of product packaging are equally helpful. Let your veterinary team know if you’ve recently transitioned diets or have plans of doing so. Make sure to mention any new treats, fruits, or veggies you’ve recently provided, even if you think your veterinarian will disapprove. Please remember your vet’s office is a judgment-free zone and honesty is always the best policy. Your veterinary team cares deeply about your pet’s health and happiness, and being open and forthcoming will allow your vet to provide the best care possible.
- Husbandry – you will likely be asked questions pertaining to the environment in which your little one is kept. It is a good idea to come with a recent photo of the inside and outside of your little one’s habitat. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the temperature of the environment your little one is housed within, where they are kept within your home, and the variety of bedding and litter you provide. Your veterinarian will want to know how many water sources your pet has access to and how often the habitat is cleaned. When relaying information regarding your pet’s enclosure, or their run of the house, make sure to communicate any recent changes in the environment. Environmental changes can include (but are not limited to): new pets in the household, new enrichment items offered, a recent move, changing enclosures, recent home renovations, new human family members, recently spending time outdoors, etc.
- Stool Sample – especially if your little one has been experiencing digestive woes or passing abnormal stool, bringing a fresh stool sample along with you is generally a good idea. Even if your friend is visiting the vet for a wellness exam, it is possible your veterinarian will suggest a routine fecal screening. If you’ve noticed any oddly shaped fecal pellets, soft stools, or diarrhea, make sure to take a photo to share with your veterinarian. Along the same lines, be on the look-out for any changes to your little one’s bladder health. Though you likely will not be able to bring a urine sample from home, if you happen to notice any abnormalities in the color or consistency of your little one’s urine, snap a photo and bring it along to the appointment.
Though quite a bit different than the pre-pandemic vet visits you may have been used to, your favorite veterinarian and their dedicated staff are still doing their very best to make sure every visit is as positive as possible. Patience and understanding regarding delays are appreciated, as necessary precautions are being made with the entire community’s health and safety in mind. Luckily, with some forethought and a bit of legwork, you can help ensure a pleasant curbside experience.