Pets are helping Americans cope during a year full of uncertainty, but that uncertainty also includes how to best care for a sick pet amid a pandemic.
Veterinarians across the country have adopted new safety measures affecting how they care for sick and healthy pets, and that has contributed to reports of delays and long wait times, which have circulated for months.
In August, Dr. Cynthia Maro wrote a column in the Beaver County (Pa.) Times, part of the USA TODAY Network, saying emergency clinics were seeing wait times of up to 8 hours. Appointments were scheduled 3 to 6 weeks in advance, she wrote.
Some clinics continue to see major delays, according to Christina Lopes, CEO of FidoCure, a medicine for dogs with cancer that can be administered from home.
"Vet clinics are so over-booked that dogs needing chemo often have to wait 5+ weeks which could impact survival rates," according to an emailed statement attributed to Lopes.
And the latest data provided to USA TODAY from The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that average wait time nearly doubled earlier this year — that's according to June 2020 data compared to June 2019 data. On average, waits at veterinary practices remained less than a half-hour.
How has the pandemic affected veterinarians?
The pandemic is creating a uniquely challenging time for veterinarians, Dr. Douglas Kratt — president of the American Veterinary Medical Association — told USA TODAY.
A spike in pet ownership during the pandemic means more pets that need care. And many already established pet owners have spent more time at home with their pets, giving them a greater opportunity to notice potential health issues they otherwise may have missed.
At the same time, veterinarians are using new safety procedures like curbside drop off and telehealth calls, which increase safety but have disrupted how practices are run.
As time goes on, those changes cause less disruptions, but Kratt — who is a practicing veterinarian and owns an animal hospital in Wisconsin — says non-urgent appointments such as wellness visits are being scheduled out more than normal.
What should pet owners do?
First, pet owners shouldn't let wait time concerns get in the way of booking a vet appointment for a sick pet.
Kratt says that's a major concern, since he is confident veterinarians around the country are still able to care for pets. However, he suggested owners will need to adjust their expectations and plan ahead.
Kratt's advice: Call the veterinarian and get some key questions answered — especially in an urgent situation
Are owners allowed to accompany the animal? Is a virtual visit a possibility?
"Everybody’s kind of adapting,” Kratt said. He asked pet owners for “grace and kindness” as veterinarians and their staff work to keep pets healthy.
Sick owners create more problems
Amid a raging pandemic, an owner's health also impacts their pet's care.
Pet owners who contract COVID-19 should limit their contact with their pets, according to the The American Veterinary Medical Association.
“While this is primarily a human disease, we have seen a small number of cases in pets,” said Kratt is quoted in a release. “These cases in pets appear to be uncommon, and are mostly mild or asymptomatic, but they can still happen."
Also a concern for veterinarians: Pet owners infected with COVID-19 could bring their pet to an appointment, endangering staff.
Kratt asks that anyone who has been exposed to the virus find someone else who can take their pet to the vet instead, should the pet need medical care.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vet appointments during COVID-19 pandemic: Longer waits, busy vets