Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Future Care

How veterinary medicine is changing in the wake of COVID-19

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

The way our pets receive veterinary care changed dramatically two months ago. One day we were in the exam room with them; the next, we were all driving to the clinic, calling from our cars to announce our arrival, and staying in them while masked vet techs came and took pets inside for exams. Intercoms at clinic entrances enable germ-free communication with the front desk. Telehealth is trending.

High-tech accommodations that veterinarians and pet owners have made to deal with the COVID-19 virus will likely remain in the future. Phone calls, video and social media may all play a role in the way pets receive care -- and the way we witness it.

For instance, if you can’t go in with your pet, can you still see the exam and communicate with the veterinarian?

“Absolutely,” says Peter Weinstein, DVM, executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association. Once the pet is in the exam room, he says, it’s easy to initiate a Zoom, Skype or FaceTime call with the client so they can see what’s going on.

Veterinarian Julie Reck, who practices in South Carolina, foresees utilizing video and social media more frequently to let owners see what’s going on if a pet has to “go to the back” for a procedure or is recovering from surgery.

“We do a lot on our social media for our veterinary page,” she says. “We get video content of our patients all the time, whether that’s while we’re in the exam room or if they’re in the back treatment area. If we’re going to change that dynamic and separate the pet parent and the pet, we need to up the ante with that a little bit.”

Anxious about letting your pet go into the veterinary clinic without you? It’s not surprising that he might be weirded out by that masked and gowned technician and veterinarian. Separating pets and their people isn’t ideal, but veterinary staff can ease pet anxiety by using low-stress or Fear Free handling techniques, food rewards, stress relievers such as pheromone diffusers or soft music, and non-skid surfaces on exam tables to help them remain calm and comfortable.

Remote health care, or telehealth, may become more common for what were once routine in-clinic visits. Beyond a pandemic situation, it can benefit people who are sick but have a pet who needs to be seen or who don’t have access to transportation. It’s also useful in remote areas where specialist care or even general practice care isn’t available.

Maybe your dog has a lump on his chin. If you have an already-established doctor-patient relationship, you can take a photo of the lump and email or text it to your veterinarian for advice on whether it can wait, or if needs to be treated immediately.

In some instances, you may not need an already-established relationship for your pet to receive treatment. Last month, the United States Food and Drug Administration temporarily relaxed some requirements regarding physical examinations to make it easier for veterinarians to prescribe drugs in certain situations without directly examining the pet. State veterinary medical association requirements may still be in effect in some areas, though.

Whenever the pandemic is over, lingering fear will likely affect the way veterinary medicine is delivered. We may see hybrid models combining traditional delivery of veterinary medicine with new drive-up, drop-off or telehealth services.

Dr. Weinstein counsels patience to pet owners and veterinarians who are navigating new territory and are concerned about their own health as well as that of their families and pets.

“If we can all respect one another’s needs, we’ll all come out of this just fine,” he says.

Q&A

What’s in a

pet name?

Q: We have a new dog, and our family can’t agree on a name. Do you have any tips on choosing a great dog name?

A: I love coming up with pet names and hearing the names people come up with for their animals. Some choose one name and stick with it for each succeeding pet, such as Bingos I through IV. Themes are popular. Think chocolate Labs named Godiva, Chip, Fudge or Mocha.

Lots of pets are named after comic strip or cartoon animals, actors and pop stars, or movie characters. Snoopy is a classic; lots of dogs are named Elvis after the hip-swiveling rocker; and Taylor Swift named one of her pets Benjamin Button.

One trend I love is giving “people” names to pets. I can’t tell you how many dogs and cats I know named Max, Jack, Bella, Chloe, Zoe, Charlie, Sam, Maggie and so on. I think that’s a good thing: It marks our animals’ roles as full-fledged members of the family.

Choose a name with positive associations. Names define animals to others. Think about it: The pet named Outlaw or Trouble comes loaded with baggage, even if he is sweet and snuggly.

Choose a name that’s easy to say. Usually that’s a one- or two-syllable name, often ending with an “a” or “e” sound. Think Stella, Buddy, Sophie.

Avoid choosing a name that rhymes with no. Names like Beau, Joe, Coco and Cosmo are cute and popular, but it can be easy for a dog to mishear them as “no” and come to dislike his name.

In the end, though, after being a veterinarian for 40 years and a pet lover my entire life, I can tell you this: Pets don't really care what you call them, as long as you call them for dinner. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Pets don’t need

COVID-19 testing

-- Does your pet need to be tested for COVID-19? No. Two dogs and two domestic cats tested positive for the virus. Those animals were living with people who had the virus and likely transmitted it to their pets. A test for pets is available to veterinarians, but it is administered only if the animal is living with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or the animal is showing signs of COVID-19 and other more common infections have been ruled out. Your veterinarian would also consult the public health department before deciding if your pet needs to be tested. The majority of pets are not at risk for the disease.

-- Most of us are familiar with destructive chewing in dogs, but some cats chew destructively as well. The habit is called “wool-sucking” because cats who engage in it seem to prefer items such as wool sweaters and blankets. (Some cats prefer plastic items such as grocery bags.) Wool-sucking cats -- who tend to be members of the Siamese family -- typically lick and chew at the same spot on an item and return to it again and again. The behavior most likely has a hereditary component, since it is most common in the so-called Oriental breeds. If your cat is a wool-sucker, put away items you don’t want her to chew on and offer interactive play instead.

-- There’s lots to celebrate and be aware of regarding pets this month. May is not only National Pet Month, it’s also Lyme Disease Prevention Month, Pet Cancer Awareness Month and Chip Your Pet Month. Coming up are International Chihuahua Appreciation Day on May 14; National Rescue Dog Day on May 20; and International Hug Your Cat Day on May 30. (Cats don’t really like to be hugged. Give a nice head scratch instead.)

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.