Vet Talk

Proper Pandemic Petiquette During COVID-19

The days of the nail trim are temporarily suspended

April 10, 2020 (published)
Graphic by VIN

No one should die for a nail trim.

As everyone knows, over the course of a few short weeks, everyone’s life and way of going through the world has changed.

Vets are no different. Being a veterinarian has always been a people profession. Just about every pet (and I am only referring to those in my field – small animal medicine) is attached to an owner. A human. And now we are supposed to stay 5 kielbasas away from humans (that’s the metric here in the Chicago suburbs where I live. Yours may be different). This obviously presents some challenges to a business that relies on humans bringing in their pets for evaluation, preventive care, and treatment.

So how have veterinarians adapted to this new reality? How can they provide services to pet owners, keep pets healthy – while at the same time protecting themselves and their staff? A recent survey of nearly 3,000 veterinarians on the Veterinary Information Network, or VIN, an online community of veterinarians and parent of VetzInsight, gives us some insight.

More than 80% of respondents were switching to curbside drop-off and pickup for both patients and medical supplies such as bandages and medications. More than half were only allowing clients into the hospital for pet euthanasia. Only 1% said they have closed, but over 50% are reporting decreased caseload. About 1/3 have suspended anything non-urgent, treating only ill patients.

So, this means the days of the professional nail trim are temporarily suspended. Like much of life. 

But humans will be humans. I have heard from many veterinary friends that some clients (thankfully few in number) are banging on doors, being rude to staff, or requesting “normal” procedures like nail trims at hospitals that have switched to only emergency patients. In some of the most egregious cases, clients are completely ignoring signs that ask them to wait outside clinics and are barging in. Everyone is on edge, but yelling at a veterinarian, receptionist, or technician will not do anyone any good: it probably won’t get you what you want, and it may get you “fired” from a vet practice. This means you have to find a new vet – your old one won’t see you anymore.

Please – don’t be that person. That person is not nice.

I get it that emotions are running high. Many people are spending more time with their pets and may be noticing more things than under normal conditions: lumps, bumps, skin tags, etc. When that lumpy pet is someone's sole housemate, it can feel like an emergency. If you find something concerning, first take a breath. Now a second one…. Does it still seem like an emergency (lots of blood, inside things on the outside)? If so, call the emergency clinic.

Assuming that all your pet's parts are still attached, call your veterinarian's office or find their website. Many vets are offering telemedicine services for their existing clients. That may be a phone consultation, a video chat, or email. Many questions or concerns can be handled by telemedicine, meaning you can maintain your stay-at-home status confident that your pet is getting proper care.

If you and your vet determine that your pet needs to be seen in the clinic, follow whatever instructions your vet asks you to. If that’s curbside drop-off, arrive on time and phone the hospital to make sure they know you’re there. You may have to wait -- bring a book, listen to a podcast, or knit a dog sweater. Make sure you have your dog on a secure leash or your cat in a sturdy carrier. I have heard tales of pets running loose after a dog slips a loose collar or a flimsy carrier falls apart during handoff, and this is not the time to be screeching through alleyways calling out Mr. Flooffles? Where are you?!! I have kielbasa!!

Your vet (and their staff) are human and probably just as stressed as you are. Try not to take it out on them. You don’t need to bake them cookies (though if you do – oatmeal raisin cookies are an affront to decency), but please treat them with the patience and kindness they deserve and that you should treat anyone with. Just like the nurses, doctors, and other caregivers treating people, your vet and all of their staff could potentially be putting their lives on the line to take care of your pet.

I’m not saying don’t go see your vet. If your pet is ill, and your vet is open and seeing patients, they are there to help. And in reality, they’d probably appreciate the business and the opportunity to help you and your pet. Many businesses are suffering during this time, and a vet hospital is in the business of helping. Just inform yourself of what they expect of you and play by the rules.

And, please – be nice. Did I mention being nice? We should all be nice. Just do it from 5 kielbasas away.


Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM
March 1, 2021

Hi Mary, It's all so frustrating with this pandemic, isn't it! I know how hard it is to feel like you're handing your beloved pet over to relative strangers especially when they aren't feeling well, but if your veterinarian currently has restrictions on allowing clients into the practice, rest assured it is for the benefit of all of the people and pets involved. Veterinary practices are generally independently owned, so there is no set policy for how they handle pandemic safety as long as they are complying with state and local laws.  However, because many are privately owned, and often in older buildings with designs that might not be great for air flow and distancing, many practice owners are staying with curbside service now in order to protect their clients (like you :) ) and their staff and selves.  If the veterinarian in the practice gets sick or has to quarantine, in many cases the entire practice would be closed for weeks which harms pet care. I hope that makes sense.

Mary Griffith
February 23, 2021

I would like to know if there is any plan in place or target date to reopen vet clinics to allow clients to bring their pets in and remain with them during an exam?  Everyone is wearing a mask, vaccinations are now onboard. More and more businesses have reopened serving customers. Schools, churches, grocery stores, are all open with precautions. Why not vet clinics? It is very hard to turn over a scared and/or sick animal to a stranger, to be taken away, seen and treated, without the owner present. We all want to be safe, I get that. We all want the same for our pets.his is a test...

Andrea Minasian
May 5, 2020

Hi Andrea, I had to have be beloved dog euthanized yesterday. I am sorry for your niece's experience. My practice would allow only one person in as the last appointment of the day. Everyone  wore gloves and a mask and we stayed as far apart as possible. My husband could not go, but at least one of us was there. I was sad because I could not feel her while petting her with gloves on, but at least I could be with her. These are difficult times for everyone.

May 1, 2020

I am raising a Guide Dog Puppy who started vomiting and had diarrhea this morning at 4:30 A.M. I was grateful there was a place open to take him. It took some time and procedures such as communicating and payment were different. But I realize how much we are all affected and try to keep going the best we can.Very happy this pup was able to come back home with me. The facility followed up with an email, much appreciated.

Dr. Tony Johnson
April 29, 2020

Hi Andrea; Thanks for your response. So sorry your niece had a bad experience. Different clinics have different protocols and are handling them differently to keep staff (and clients) safe.  Gentle feedback to the clinic may help them re-evaluate their protocols, but please know that they are put in place out of an abundance of caution to protect human life. These are challenging times and vet clinics are having to try things out that they were never prepared for. We have no guidelines on how to proceed. Even human hospitals have had to go to televised visits with loved ones who are dying. Some vet clinics have gone to allowing clients to be behind a divider with their pet and using a very long IV set for the injection. This might be something to mention. Here's hoping this won't be an issue for you anytime soon.

Andrea Carlson
April 17, 2020

My niece's cat had to be humanely euthanized. She said the hardest part was that her veterinary clinic would not let her be with her cat during the process. That sounded very extreme and unacceptable to me. I would like to be there and holding my animal when the time comes.

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