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Are Veterinarians and Pet Supply Stores Deemed ‘Essential’ During Coronavirus?

By Christy True
April 1, 2020 • 3 min. read
Veterinarian with a cute dog

With more cities and states issuing “shelter-in-place” orders daily to fight the spread of COVID-19, you may be wondering if veterinarian clinics and pet supply businesses are considered “essential.” Many orders require nonessential businesses to close.

The answer is yes, they are considered essential, for the most part. In the three states most heavily hit by COVID-19 — Washington, California and New York, as well as Maryland and Pennsylvania, veterinary hospitals and clinics are explicitly listed as “essential businesses.” In other states, it’s not as well defined, but none that we can find have said they are “nonessential.”

Several veterinary trade groups are lobbying hard to make sure these businesses are deemed essential everywhere. Besides caring for family pets, veterinarians play a critical role in protecting the health of animals that enter the food supply, says the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA).

“We urge lawmakers and state executives to protect and preserve public health and ensure that veterinary practices are clearly stated to be ‘essential businesses’ and thereby allowed to continue to provide critical services in our communities,” the AVMA wrote to Congress.

One local pet store owner in New York told the TODAY show, “We are considered food, and pets need to eat.”

So, while veterinarians and pet stores may be changing the way they do things for the time being, and some may choose to close, you should be able to feed your pet and get them emergency care if needed. Some people are extending their panic buying behavior to pet food, so you might not find your favorite brand.

If you need services from your veterinary clinic, be sure to call ahead to make sure they are open and find out any special measures they are taking to keep everyone safe. 

Veterinary clinics taking precautions

Veterinarian with a cute dog

The AMVA has issued guidelines for veterinarians to operate safely during the Coronavirus outbreak. The AMVA recommends putting off any elective surgeries or treatments and using telemedicine as much as possible. For in-person appointments, the AMVA suggests:

  • Veterinarians consider meeting clients with ill animals at their cars, rather than having them bring those animals into the waiting room.
  • When meeting clients, veterinary team members should maintain an appropriate distance (6-feet minimum) and wear masks and gloves.
  • Veterinary staff should gather information on history and clinical signs and conduct follow-up consultations by phone. This should reduce risk for both veterinary team members and customers, as human-to-human contact is still believed to be the primary mode of transmission.
  • If a pet parent is quarantined or showing signs of illness, have someone else bring the pet in.
  • Limit the number of people in the clinic to 10 or fewer.
  • Mobile and house call veterinarians should consider examining animals in their vehicle, outside, or at a local clinic.

National pet store chains are open with new rules

Dog in a pet store with bone
With social distancing in place, maybe your dog is smart enough to get his own supplies.

Pet supply chain stores Petco, PetValu, PetSmart, Mud Bay, and Stella & Chewy’s have said they will stay open with reduced hours even in areas with shelter-in-place orders. They are offering home delivery or curbside pickup options. Some services are being curtailed such as grooming and training classes.

Petco told the TODAY show that due to supply demands, they have stopped shipments of “non-essential” pet items including pet toys and animal apparel. Food and other supplies will be available online.

Of course, online companies such as Chewy and Amazon also remain open, although they warn that delivery times are taking longer than normal, and Amazon says only “essential” items will be shipped. They include pet supplies in that category.

Stores are implementing new rules to prevent any spread of COVID-19, including:

  • Staff is spending more time sanitizing customer touchpoints and restocking shelves.
  • Stores are limiting the number of customers allowed inside for safe social distancing.
  • Store employees are retrieving items for customers.
  • Payments via debit or credit cards is preferred to minimize the handling of cash.
Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 21 dog years. She previously worked in journalism, hence her penchant for writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs, and right now, Tomas, a Mexican street dog rescue, is staring at her because he wants a walk. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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