The Veterinary Medical Center is located on 601 Vernon L. Tharp Street on West Campus. Credit: Ris Twigg | Former Assistant Photo Editor

With COVID-19’s continued spread, many people’s attention has been on finding ways to maintain their own health, but pet owners might also be wondering how to keep their furry friends healthy during the outbreak.

Many veterinary offices have developed new procedures to maintain physical distancing guidelines and slow the spread of the disease. The Veterinary Medical Center at Ohio State has eliminated regular wellness care, limiting its services to 24-hour emergency care, after-hours urgent care at the Veterinary Medical Center at Dublin and urgent specialty care, allowing existing clients for high-priority situations and new clients who require immediate attention to make appointments.

In addition, both VMC locations are only offering curbside service to minimize contact between staff and pet owners, Jo Fleming, practice manager at the Dublin location, said.

“Now clients actually don’t enter the building at all,” Fleming said. “They call when they arrive, and we send out a triage team wearing masks and PPE to get the pet from the vehicle. Everything else, the taking of a history, fees, registration are all done over the phone.”

With concerns circulating about whether dogs and cats can contract and transmit COVID-19, Fleming said pet parents should not worry.

“There are a lot of coronaviruses that affect the animal population. Nineteen is not one of them,” Fleming said. “All of our data suggests that your dog or cat is not going to transmit COVID-19.”

Despite the outbreak, Fleming said the need for veterinary visits remains the same and pet owners should still bring a sick animal into the medical center. Whether a situation warrants a trip to urgent care or the emergency center depends on how severe the illness is, she said.

“What I encourage people to do is kind of think of it as they would themselves,” she said. “We kind of know when we’re feeling ill, what we would go to an urgent care for as opposed to, ‘Man, I’m going to need an emergency room.’”

Examples of cases that warrant a trip to urgent care include coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, allergic reactions, urinary tract infections, skin and ear infections, loss of appetite and minor wounds, according to the VMC website.

While urgent care can perform most of the procedures usually done at the emergency facility, it is unable to hospitalize a pet, so pets requiring surgery or hospitalization should go to the emergency center, Fleming said. If it is decided that a pet at urgent care needs hospitalization, the medical center can facilitate a transfer to the emergency facility with no additional fee, she said.

Fleming said pets with chronic illnesses, such as pets undergoing chemotherapy or pets who need medication management, are still able to receive their regular care at the VMC despite the changes. However, she said the medical center is not taking any new wellness care and specialty appointments, such as vaccinations and checkups.

Chittenden Veterinary Clinic has undergone similar changes to the VMC, Stephen Rowland, a third-year in zoology who works there as a veterinary technician, said. The clinic has switched to curbside service and eliminated nonessential visits for the time being. Nonessential visits include minor surgeries, such as mass removals and dental cleanings, and vaccines, excluding the rabies vaccine, Rowland said.

“Unless you have a particular reason you would need the other vaccines, like leptospirosis, distemper – unless you have a very specific reason you would need that, then they can be without that for the meantime, and it’s better to do that just to prevent any potential spread,” he said.

Rowland said the biggest change for him as a veterinary technician has been minimized interaction with clients, as veterinary technicians typically go into exam rooms with clients to record their health histories. He said the clinic as a whole has undergone dramatic changes.

“One thing is with all the hospitals – the human hospitals – needing all the supplies and everything, we’re under a lot of pressure to try and limit what resources we use,” Rowland said. “Try and use as few gloves as possible, try and use as little various cleaning supplies, masks and everything.”

Rowland said he feels veterinary professionals currently have an obligation to prevent the spread of misinformation regarding COVID-19 in animals. He said it’s important to distinguish between the various coronaviruses that affect the animal population and the strain currently affecting humans.

“COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus. It’s a betacoronavirus,” Rowland said. “Traditionally, the ones that we see in pets, for example, very common is canine enteric coronavirus. We vaccinate for that in puppies a lot of the time. That’s an alphacoronavirus, so it’s an entirely different family.”

Fleming said along with looking for signs of illness, pet owners should keep their pets exercised by walking them and playing with them in the house and backyard. She said it’s important to maintain a sense of routine for a pet, so they don’t experience problems when self-isolation guidelines are removed.

“One of the bigger concerns is when these restrictions are actually lifted, most animals don’t mind you being home,” she said. “But when you go back to your old routine and now you’re gone for several hours a day is when we typically start to see anxiety issues and some behavioral problems.”

A good way to maintain a pet’s routine is to keep their feeding schedule the same, even if that means skipping an extra hour of sleep in the morning to feed the pet at the time they’re used to being fed, Fleming said.

The Veterinary Medical Center at Ohio State’s Emergency and Critical Care Service is open every day, 24 hours a day. Urgent care services at the Veterinary Medical Center at Dublin is open 4-11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Clients are asked to call ahead before arriving.