If you have a pet, there’s no doubt you’ve noticed that veterinary hospitals are experiencing an overwhelming case load throughout the pandemic. Since the very beginning of the COVID – 19 outbreaks, veterinarians had to shift the way veterinary care is delivered, to keep the staff and the public as safe as possible. Life in a pandemic created a cascade of events that, among many other things, has caused an increase in pet ownership and a decrease in the capabilities of veterinary hospitals to function as they did prior to COVID – 19.
Veterinary personnel experienced the same challenges as everyone else, the same school shut-downs, the same COVID – 19 infections, the same family losses due to COVID – 19, loss of child-care and loss of income. Veterinary facilities experienced the same supply shortages, shipping delays of life saving medications, equipment and supplies for surgeries and intensive care, while doing their best to keep their doors open to serve the pet owning public.
Practice owners have been faced with unprecedented challenges to mitigate staffing shortages an
d delays in receiving shipments of medical supplies while trying to preserve sterile surgical gloves, masks, and gowns because there was no guarantee they would be available. It has been a monumental task. Veterinary facilities have had to turn pets away because they don’t have the staff to care for them. Some veterinary facilities have had to shut down completely because of the number of staff who contracted COVID. Some veterinary facilities have had to close because someone didn’t survive. It has been devastating.
With that in mind, here are some ways that you can keep your pet from needing veterinary care during these extraordinary times.
Vaccinations are very high on the list because they can prevent devastating diseases such as parvo virus. It is incredibly important to vaccinate your pets, especially young puppies and kittens. Just as with children, there is a recommended schedule for puppy and kitten vaccines, it’s important to get the boosters to be sure the pet is fully protected. It is one way to keep your pet out of the ICU.
Spay/Neuter for pets is also important and can prevent life threatening diseases such as prostate cancer, uterine infection, mammary cancer, and testicular cancer. It can also decrease sexually driven behaviors such as aggression, inter-male fighting, urine marking of territory, roaming and escape from yards and of course, unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. This is typically done around 6 months of age. It is far better for the pet to have this minor surgery while they are young and healthy. Pets that develop cancer associated with reproductive organs, uterine or prostate infections in their later years are at higher risk of anesthetic death and complications from surgery or other age-related illnesses. Pregnant females that have difficulties giving birth may need to have a C-section. This is a life-threatening emergency for the mother and the babies.
Wellness Exams at regular intervals can catch developing illnesses before they become a major medical issue. Wellness exams include a complete blood panel, a urinalysis and thorough physical examination. It is recommended that pets over the age of 7 receive wellness examinations twice per year. These screenings can reveal subtle changes in liver and kidney function, early signs of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, parasitic infections and quality of life concerns.
Behavior Management is a key component to preventing accidents and illnesses. Take the time to teach your dog basic obedience commands such as sit, stay and come. Teach your dog to walk on a leash. Crate train dogs and cats so that they are comfortable being in a transport cage when it is time to go to the veterinarian. Teach them to stay in a crate while they are unattended, so they are not tempted to be destructive in the home or eat things that are not food. Poor behavior management has been the number one reason people surrender their pets to shelters. Teach your pet to be comfortable around other animals and people. Good manners will go a long way to keeping your pet safe and keeping other people and animals safe around your pet as well.
Medication Management for pets on continuous medications for illnesses such as diabetes, congestive heart failure and epilepsy, is key to avoiding a trip to the vet emergency hospital. Follow all directions carefully and consistently. Often times, pet owners will stop giving the medication because they believe the pet is better and doesn’t need it any longer. This is a dangerous game of roulette putting the pet at risk. Seizures, diabetic emergencies, and respiratory distress are commonly seen in vet emergency rooms. Make sure that your pet doesn’t run out of these medications. Have a plan to assure that refills are picked up. Remember, many veterinary hospitals are closed for holidays. Before a veterinarian can prescribe medication there must be a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, which means that veterinarian has to have physically seen the animal and confirmed the animal needs the prescription.
Household medications can pose a significant threat to pets. Dogs and cats don’t tolerate common household medications such as ibuprofen and Tylenol, in fact they can be fatal. Keep all household medications well out of reach so dogs and cats cannot accidentally ingest them. THC is highly toxic to dogs, even the smoke from a marijuana cigarette can cause illness. If a pet accidentally ingests any household medication its important to see a veterinarian as soon as possible and tell them what the pet ingested so they can appropriately treat the pet. Veterinarians are far more interested in treating the pet than calling the authorities.
Dietary Management is another important topic to discuss when thinking about ways to avoid a trip to the emergency vet. Only feed pet foods that offer balanced nutrition. Stay away from grain-free diets, they are linked to a deadly heart condition called cardiomyopathy. Whether your pet is on a prescription diet for a medical condition, or not, it is important not to change their diet abruptly. Pets do not metabolize foods in the same way that people do so it is vitally important that the human food is kept out of reach of the pets. Foods like pork products, bones, high fat foods, grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, molded cheese and many other foods can cause severe illnesses such as pancreatitis. If your pet accidentally gets to the food or into the trash, see a veterinarian as soon as possible. They may be able to induce vomiting and empty the stomach before the food can cause illness or death.
Parasite Control is an easy way to avoid some very serious diseases that plague pets. Parasites carry diseases. There are several deadly diseases that are transmitted by fleas and ticks. Dogs and cats need flea and tick prevention to protect them from these crippling and sometimes fatal infections. They also need regular preventives for intestinal parasites and heartworms. Many of these parasites feed on the animals blood and can cause anemia. Some of these parasite infections can be transmitted to people so it is very important that pets who live with children, elderly or immune compromised people remain current on parasite preventives to decrease the risk of the pet transmitting disease to people. It is also important that cat litter boxes be cleaned daily and dog feces be picked up from the yard daily to prevent parasite infections. Cover sand boxes so neighboring cats won’t be able to eliminate in the sand where children play. Don’t allow pets to drink from standing water, creeks, ponds or lakes as these can be a source of parasite infections.
Pet ID tags, tattoo and microchips are common forms of identification for pets. Microchips are a safe and permanent device placed under the skin of pets that is identified with a microchip scanner. Every shelter and veterinary facility has universal microchip readers that will read the microchip. Microchips have a unique number that is registered to the owner and will give the pet the best chance possible to be reunited with its family should it ever become lost or stolen. It is helpful to have photos of the pet also.
Let’s talk about Do’s and Don’ts ~
Do check fences, pens and other pet areas for escape routes, holes, or broken parts to keep pets safely enclosed and avoid escapes that could lead to dangerous situations such as being hit by a car, attacked by another animal or ingesting a poison such as antifreeze
Do keep pets at a healthy weight, obesity can cause many diseases of the organs, joints and the back.
Do exercise pets in a safe enclosed area or on a leash
Do keep socks, shoes, toys, trash, rubber bands, strings and other items off the floor out of reach of pets. Dogs and cats will eat these things and get a life-threatening intestinal blockage that requires emergency surgery.
Do keep purses, hearing aids, coins, batteries, all types of candy and gum out of reach of pets. Gum contains xylitol which can be deadly to pets, purses can have other enticing items that pets may find appealing to chew on.
Do keep pets out of the extreme elements. Extreme heat and extreme cold can be dangerous to pets.
Do keep all household chemicals out of reach of pets.
Don’t casually breed pets. There are many health concerns associated with difficulty giving birth. Mother dogs can develop eclampsia that can be fatal. Mother’s may not appropriately care for the babies. In-tack females can get a uterine infection. Mothers may abort their babies due to illness.
Don’t go to dog parks or other heavily populated places. Dogs are at risk of contracting diseases, getting into confrontations with other dogs or people.
Don’t walk dogs off leash anywhere. It is important to maintain control of the dog at all times. Even the most well-behaved dog can be distracted, caught off guard or targeted by another aggressive dog.
I have worked in veterinary emergency medicine for the majority of my 40 year career as a veterinary technician. I can tell you firsthand, there are some emergencies that cannot be predicted or prevented. However, there are a good number of emergencies that can be prevented. Veterinary hospitals are at maximum capacity. We absolutely want to be there for the pets that need us. We don’t want to turn any pet away because we don’t have the capacity, the space, the supplies or the staff to care for them. I hope this information will prevent a pet emergency. Pet parents can help ease the extraordinary burden that every veterinary hospital is facing. We sincerely hope you don’t need us in an emergency that could have been prevented.
Dana Call, RVT, VTS (ECC), CHT-V