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As the U.S. is increasingly locked down due to the global pandemic Coronavirus or COVID-19, you may be wondering how to take care of your pets if they need veterinary help and you can’t safely go out. Or if you are one of the people considered at higher risk, even how to get food or other pet supplies.
The good news is that the COVID-19 virus is not transmissible to or from dogs or cats and people. And as more people are working from home or staying put, our pets provide comfort and respite from the anxiety this unprecedented pandemic is generating.
For people who are not sick, you can interact with your pets as usual, and even with social distancing in place, it’s fine to take your dog for a walk, as long as you keep a six-foot space from others.
For people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are showing symptoms (cough, fever, achiness), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that they limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. The virus could possibly be spread if someone were to pet a dog or cat after an infected person had done so. If you are ill, have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet.
What are the vet options if your pet needs care and you are housebound?
In some of the more highly impacted areas, such as Seattle and San Francisco, government agencies are ordering all “nonessential businesses” to shut down. What is “nonessential” is still up for debate.
AVMA is advocating for all veterinary hospitals and ambulatory practices to be considered essential businesses in any situation in which nonessential businesses are asked to close to minimize COVID-19 risk.
There are some vet options during this crisis. Most veterinarians are still open. If you do go to the vet, be sure and follow the standard World Health Organization coronavirus safety tips to wash your hands before and after your visit, use hand sanitizer and try to stay six feet away from others.
If you are vulnerable and your pet needs care, call your veterinarian ahead of time. Some are offering to provide curbside assistance or to escort pets from a vehicle into the clinic to address their needs.
If your pet has a condition that is not painful and does not need to be addressed immediately, consider waiting a few weeks to go.
If you and your pet already have a relationship with a vet, you may be able to try the growing practice of veterinary telemedicine, or the use of electronic communication (phone calls, Skype video chats, texts, etc.) to share information about a pet’s health status. Many vets have already been offering video vet service as a matter of convenience for less complicated cases; now might be the perfect time to try it.
Paying for pet care during the pandemic
Millions of Americans struggle to afford veterinary care to their pets on a normal day. Now, with people out of work, even more people fear that they will be unable to afford care for their pet-family member. Veterinarians know that these are unprecedented times. If your pet needs care during the pandemic, start by talking to your veterinary team or a veterinary telehealth service to help you decide if your pet needs veterinary care today or if you could provide some in-home care to help your pet feel better.
Other veterinary hospitals are willing to offer payment plans or have implemented a payment system such as ScratchPay that allows your pet to receive care now, and you pay later by arrangement. If you are worried about your pet’s health and health expenses, talk to your veterinary team, talk to a telehealth provider, and you’ll find you are definitely not alone.
Look to your neighbors for help
This is an ideal time to connect with your neighbors if you can do so by phone or from a safe distance. It’s especially important to check on elderly or isolated people during this time. You can also look for neighborhood blogs or join your local NextDoor group to connect with people nearby.
In some communities, churches or other groups are forming to match people who are healthy and able to get out, with those who are housebound and need help. In Bend, Ore., a Facebook group called Pandemic Partners, allows people in need to post a request, and those who can help will respond.
One man, who identified himself as a high-risk 68-year-old, had a spay appointment for his dog, but he was afraid to go into the vet’s office. He asked if someone could meet him at the vet and escort his dog in, and several people volunteered to help.
Others asked for pet food or help walking their dog and received quick responses. One woman with a pet transport business offered to transport pets to and from appointments or pick up pet supplies at no charge.
How to get pet food if you are quarantined
Even as some states are mandating that restaurants, bars, and other businesses close, most pet and grocery stores remain open. While hoarding behavior means that some stores, such as Costco, are running out of popular types of pet food, most dog and cat food is still widely available. If you have to switch brands, find something as close to your usual type of food as possible.
If you are older or have a medical condition that requires you to shelter in place, you can order pet food online from Chewy, Amazon or Petco or most grocery stores. Delivery usually only takes one or two days.
Keep in mind that large chain stores are likely to weather this crisis, while small businesses are suffering mightily. So if you have a local pet store you like, see if they offer delivery and support them with your dollars. See below for other ways to support these small businesses and their employees.
If you are really in a jam, you can make your own dog food with ingredients you may have on hand. Check out what ingredients a veterinarian advises in this blog post.
What if you are at-risk and can’t walk your dog?
Wag says on its blog that it will offer service as usual and they are looking to expand services to new markets because of the virus. They include some tips to prevent spreading the virus: pet sitters who feel sick should not be working; both walkers and clients should keep a safe distance and limit interaction; and for both parties to follow other recommended Coronavirus safety tips.
Volunteers in some communities are stepping up to walk dogs for at-risk people, which provides the dogs much-needed exercise and also provides a check-in for isolated seniors.
While many dog daycare businesses are reporting that business is way down as people work from home, some are still open. Elise Vincentini, the owner of Downtown Dog Lounge in Seattle, said business is down about 70 percent, but she is remaining open to care for the dogs of health care workers and other essential service providers. DogCity West Seattle reported their business is down 65 percent and they are open for now but may have to close in the days ahead.
Support pet-related businesses
If you are in an area with a lot of known cases of Coronavirus, you may want to cancel any dog walking, cat sitting or doggie daycare for now. But don’t forget that you will want these businesses to be around when this is over. Not to mention the importance of helping hourly employees during this difficult time.
Here are a few things you can do for them:
- Pre-pay for future appointments
- Pay for regular service even if you cancel
- Buy their gift cards
- Leave a tip
- Text or email to show appreciation
- Leave positive reviews