Will I be able to visit my vet during the Coronavirus outbreak?

Vet examining kittens

The coronavirus outbreak in the UK is happening – this isn’t something we see on our television screens from far away places. Our neighbours, friends and families are at risk. Many of us know people who are suspected or confirmed cases. And carrying on as normal, while admirable in many circumstances, is unhelpful and dangerous now. All businesses and professions are affected by it, but in this blog we’re going to look at how vet practices are likely to be affected, and what you can do to help them until we all come out the other side.

How will vets be affected?

Except for those of us working on farms, vets are not designated as “key workers” by the government. As a result of that, and the advice from the government to self-isolate if showing any symptoms, there will be fewer vets and nurses available to work.

In addition to this, the advice from the government and our professional bodies is now to dramatically scale back on routine and non-urgent services. The reason is simple – every time we meet you, there’s a chance that one of us will infect the other with the virus. We can reduce that risk with careful preventative measures, but never entirely eliminate it. And so, the best solution is to massively reduce the amount of face-to-face contact between people.

Are pets at risk of Coronavirus?

No – there is no evidence that dogs, cats or rabbits can become ill with the new coronavirus, or spread it to humans. The jury is still out on rodents and ferrets, but it doesn’t seem likely that they are at high risk. It’s people (and possibly non-human primates) that are at risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

It is true that there has been one reported case of a dog picking up the virus, but despite screening many thousands of other dogs, the Idexx laboratories haven’t found any other cases, so we think this is really really rare. You can read more about this in my previous blog here.

What vet services will be running?

All vets in the UK take an oath to uphold animal welfare. However, that oath also commits us to uphold our responsibilities to the public (in this case by preventing the spread of coronavirus), and clearly these two requirements are in tension. 

That’s why vets across the UK will still be seeing emergency cases. It may be that you won’t see your normal vet, or that your practice will have joined together with others locally to provide a skeleton service. Whatever arrangements there are, your practice will make sure that there’s someone to deal with genuine emergencies.

The majority of practices will also see “urgent cases” – those where animal health and welfare are in immediate danger from a disease or injury, even if it isn’t a danger to life. However, these slots may well operate differently, and be harder to get, than usual.

What is an emergency?

An emergency can be defined as a situation where the animal’s life is imminently in danger. Conditions such as uncontrolled seizures lasting more than 5 minutes, inability to give birth (dystocia), difficulty breathing, and severe and uncontrollable bleeding might fit into this group.

What is an urgent case?

Urgent cases are those that need veterinary attention, but the animal’s life is not (yet) immediately in danger (although it may become so if not treated). These might include serious wounds that are not bleeding heavily, prolonged vomiting, or most infections.
For these cases, vets may or may not need to physically see the patient – for example, it might be that, in some circumstances, they are able to prescribe medication to manage the symptoms or the underlying disease (for example, painkillers or antibiotics). What is appropriate will of course vary from case to case.

What sort of things might not be happening?

Routine cases like weight clinics, nail clips and puppy parties are now essentially banned from going ahead. Most small animal practices will also be stopping reproductive work except for emergencies (i.e. dogs and cats that are already pregnant) – the consensus of opinion is that it would be irresponsible to be breeding right now.

Routine appointments such as medicine reviews, flea and worm checks, and even booster vaccines might not occur face-to-face either. Whether your practice offers them at all will depend on the exact situation, the risks of doing them compared to the benefits. 

It’s important to remember that most vaccines have a window of opportunity and for most animals, most of the time, they do not instantly lose their protection because they haven’t been vaccinated by the due date. While we do NOT want to see a surge in infectious diseases in dogs, we also do not want to see a surge in coronavirus cases either!

Your vet will be able to advise you on how they are approaching this.

How will visiting the vet change?

Well firstly, you won’t be asked to come in unless it’s really necessary! See below for other alternatives.

Most practices are already saying one owner per animal – and that will be the norm from now on. The practice may also take your pet and examine and potentially treat them without you being there – in some cases this already occurs, but it will be more frequent. In the practice, expect them to move to card-only payments, and for them to insist you wash your hands on arrival.

If you are self-isolating, you should not be going to the vets. Try and find a friend or relative to take your pet, or call your vet for advice. In many parts of the country there are small neighbourhood groups setting up to support people in isolation and many of them are offering dog walking etc, so see if that might be an option.

Although this is a fast-moving situation, at the moment we think that having an animal seen by the vet in an emergency or urgent situation is going to be covered under “essential travel”.

What about prescription repeats?

This is a difficult one. Normally, it is a legal requirement for your vet to see and examine your animal before they can authorise a repeat prescription. However, under these extreme circumstances, the RCVS have said that under some, very limited, circumstances these rules may be waived for existing clients.

This is an area that’s in flux so may change rapidly!

What can I do instead?

If your pet is healthy – stay inside as much as possible, and when exercising, stay at least 2m (6’) away from other people. If you’re concerned about medicines etc, contact your vet for advice.

If your pet is seriously ill, call your vet for advice – don’t just drive down, call them first, because your main vets might not be open. Many vets are now offering video consults and we expect this to become an increasingly common way of performing triage and checking whether your pet does need to be seen. In some practices, routine appointments and check ups may well be offered over this service. 

If, however, your pet is unwell and you aren’t sure how urgent it is, use the Symptom Guide to decide whether you need to call your vets right now, or not. 

If you want more routine advice on your pet’s health, take a look at our Pet Health Library

What shouldn’t I do?

Go out and meet up with other people; break self-isolation, or go to your vets unnecessarily. Also, please don’t contact your vet unless you need to – I suspect they’re going to be really busy over the next few days!

Where did you get all this information from?

On Sunday 22nd March, the British Veterinary Association ran an open webinar for the veterinary professions (vets and nurses) in the UK. The information on here is based largely on their advice, and on our knowledge as to how vets are planning to respond to it, and on the government’s new measures released in 23rd March.

However, the situation may well change over the next days, weeks and months that the outbreak is predicted to last for. We’ll try and keep updating this blog for that time, but always check with your own vet what they’re doing and when.

The coronavirus pandemic is serious, and we all need to take it seriously. Stay indoors, don’t visit your vet unless you REALLY need to, and contact your vet for advice by telephone or video consult in the first instance.

But if we work together – animal owners, vets, and related industries – we can come through this stronger than we were before. 

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26 thoughts on “Will I be able to visit my vet during the Coronavirus outbreak?

  1. My Granddaughter is in the Police and I walk her Husky whilst she is at work, I don’t live with my g. Daughter but from touching the husky am I likely to catch the corona virus I am 74 years old but healthy?

    1. It is very unlikely, but not impossible. If your granddaughter starts showing symptoms, then the risk becomes higher, but it’s still low. Essentially, it’s the same risk as using the door handle of her house after she has used it – probably even lower, as the virus is not thought to survive as long on fur as on metal. Practising good hygiene and hand washing before and after handling the dog, not touching your face, and not letting him/her lick our face, will significantly reduce the, small, risk.
      That said, it does not eliminate the risk, and in light of current government guidelines, it would make sense for your granddaughter to try and find another person to exercise her dog until the pandemic subsides.

  2. I am due to collect a new puppy in the next few days, I don’t want to delay this due to the optimum time to separate from their mother. However, my local vets are not offering the routine vaccinations due to Covid-19. We have another fully vaccinated dog in the house, is it safe to collect the puppy as long as we don’t let him out in public places where other unvaccinated dogs may have been?

    1. The risk is pretty low as long as he stays away from places where unvaccinated dogs or wildlife (especially foxes and rats) congregate.

    2. I’m due to pick up a puppy in 2 weeks and I’m beyond upset. My breeders vets don’t see microchipping and vaccines as an emergency and she won’t let them go without it. Any advice would be so grateful. Kind regards
      Jane Lewis

  3. Hi there, my cat is terminal and has been given weeks to live. What happens if I decide to have him put to sleep? I can’t bear the thought of not being with him when he goes to the vets to be put to sleep.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that.
      I think the best thing to do is to talk to your vet and make plans in advance, so you’re both ready and have agreed on a way forward when the time comes.

  4. Hi I have a cat that has given birth and kittens are ready to go but I need my cat neutering as I can’t have her getting pregnant again I have other cats coming in and trying to have there way. what can I do about getting her done with out waiting for Corona virus to be over

    1. Ring your vet and have a chat with them – under some circumstances the latest guidelines suggest it may be possible.

  5. I have just collected our new puppy she has had her first lot of vaccinations, however she is due for the next set in a couple of weeks , will she be ok to get them later than 14/16 week mark due to the Coronavirus outbreak ?

    1. Ring your vet for advice – the guidelines are changing, and your vet will be best placed to assess the local risk factors.

    1. Talk to your vet about remote prescribing. The regulations in the UK have now been relaxed, so in certain cases, vets can temporarily prescribe medication without a clinical examination, after a video or telephone consult.

      1. thanks, they are willing to prescribe for 1 month for the cost of £94 but i can get 3 months for that price on line and i have limited funds.

  6. My vet wont see my dog he has a lump on his chest, he has an ear infection plus his anal glands need doing what should I do

    1. Vets in the UK aren’t closed, but they may not be seeing non-emergency cases face to face. I would advise calling them and arranging for a telephone or video consultation to talk about your concerns.

  7. After my dog visits the vet, should I be concerned that her paws or fur picked up anything? Do I need to bathe her?

    1. If she’ll tolerate it, bathing in soapy water would further reduce the (pretty low) risk of infection.

  8. Hello. I have a have month old dog that I am thinking of adopting. He hasn’t been neutered. Can vets still carry out this procedure? Thank you.

    1. Possibly – but it depends on the exact circumstances. Essentially, only if it is an imminent risk to his welfare not to be neutered (which is rarely the case, but may be in some situations).

  9. the Vet has told me my cat is most likely to get put down. I haven’t seen her in a few days and would like to say my goodbye. Am I able to or will I not be allowed in due to the virus

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that.
      It will depend on exactly how your vet is enforcing the local social distancing regulations – you probably need to ask them.

  10. Hi..i have a prepaid card.But unfortunately like many thousands across the uk the accounts have been suspended for a while.i can only pay the vets in money.will they accept this

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