The novel coronavirus has transformed every facet of life – including how we get medical attention for our pets. This piece includes live links for the most important information. The CDC currently recommends “postponing non-urgent veterinary visits and elective procedures until regular business operations resume in your community.” Although this is an essential safety measure, it has led to countless challenges for veterinary professionals. Many practices are adjusting their operations. In a national veterinary survey, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that, in order to compensate for the cash shortfalls most practices are experiencing, 60 percent of practitioners plan on pursuing a small business loan, 58 percent said they will forego their own salary, and 57 percent said they will use business cash reserves in order to cope. While none of these options are ideal, practitioners are determined to maintain their businesses and give clients peace of mind that, if their pet is in need, their vet will be there to help.


Every practice has unique challenges – the pandemic has not hit all veterinary practices equally. DVM360 put together this resource to help you make decisions based on the specific needs of your practice. While many rural areas are still experiencing some growth, according to Today’s Veterinary Practice, most metropolitan areas are seeing their total revenue decrease. In Boston, there has been more than a sixteen percent decline “in year-to-date (up to May 16) revenue compared with the same time period last year.” There are exceptions, including Phoenix (6 percent growth) and Seattle (4.8 percent growth).


Adjusting to the Times


Tent used for treating veterinary rehab patients during the COVID pandemic.
The tent used by Dr. Mead to treat patients during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like all essential businesses, the veterinary industry has adopted creative practices in order to continue to provide relief for every animal in need. Even in states where there are no stay at home orders, veterinarians are taking safety into their own hands. Despite all the challenges veterinarians currently face, many practices and organizations are implementing flexible business models and new virtual communication strategies. A survey of 277 professionals found that eighty percent of respondents are moving exclusively to curbside or drop off veterinary services, whereas only six percent of the respondents said they are continuing to allow normal access to their facilities. In Washington state, Dr. Jennifer Mead faced a unique challenge as the only member of her rehabilitation facility, Integrated Vet ARTS. While practices with teams are able to do curbside appointments, Dr. Mead wondered, “How do I continue to see patients and keep myself and my clients safe?” Her solution? She has set up a ten by ten canopy in the parking lot of her rehabilitation facility. She told Assisi: “I put mats on the ground for comfort for the pets as that is what they lay on for treatment. I have an underwater treadmill truck that I use. In that truck I plug in and charge my laser, computer and phone throughout the day. In the mornings, I use a heater to warm the inside of the canopy when it is cold.” This outdoor rehab setup has allowed Dr. Mead to treat her patients safely, however, this isn’t a long term option, because, she reflects, “I’m not sure what I will do if this goes on much longer and I get into the summer months.”


In Des Moines, Iowa, Dr. Nancy Peterson, owner of Ingersoll Animal Hospital and Pawsitive Strides Veterinary Rehabilitation & Therapy, was nervous about how the pandemic would affect her staff’s ability to communicate with pet owners. “Ensuring good communication without much face-to-face interaction is time-consuming!” she told Assisi. To adapt, her practices are primarily doing “curbside care” and communicating via phone and email. To keep clients informed, Dr. Peterson’s staff takes a picture or video of the pet’s rehabilitation session and sends it to the owner. She believes, “It helps them see that the pet is doing ‘ok’ without them being able to be in the building with them. Plus, they are generally just darn cute and clients love being able to feel like they are still very much a part of their pet’s recovery process.”


For Dr. Leilani Alvarez, the Director of the  Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service and head of the Animal Medical Center Integrative and Rehabilitative Medicine Department in New York City, the pandemic has led her to switch primarily to telemedicine. To keep pet owners informed and motivated, she has also been doing free webinars, including a public community event demonstrating exercises pet owners can perform at home with their pets. Dr. Alvarez is not alone. In an interview with the AVMA, Dr. Teller, a clinical associate professor of telehealth at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, comments that, “Before COVID, telemedicine was one of those things that veterinarians were somewhat interested in. The thinking was akin to, ‘I’ll get around to it.’ Now it’s a top priority and the thinking is, ‘I need to do this yesterday.’” Every practice can utilize telemedicine differently; this resource from the AVMA can help you learn more about telemedicine and how it can work for your practice. 


Offering A Helping Hand


Right now, creativity and compassion are essential – not only in order to help our communities get through this difficult time, but also to prepare for a new socially-distanced world. Veterinarians and pet owners are also  getting a helping hand from corporations.  Merck Animal Health is helping sick pets who missed their vaccinations due to COVID, and the Rainier Animal Fund just launched their first in-service veterinary clinic for low-income pet parents. The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine has started a training program to determine if dogs can help sniff out COVID-19


tPEMF: An Essential Tool for Your Socially-Distanced Practice


Schnauzer with Assisi Loop on his leg
Tempo the Schnauzer using the Assisi Loop

The Assisi Loop fits perfectly into a veterinarian’s creative toolkit, as it empowers pet owners and allows them to treat their pet from home, without putting themselves, their animal, or their beloved veterinarian at risk. Dr. Mead is recommending the Loop during the pandemic, just as she does all the time “for extra care at home. This reduces the times that the owners need to see me thus reducing exposure for them and me.” Chloe, a yellow lab with a torn CCL and arthritis, had been seeing Dr. Mead regularly before the pandemic, doing laser therapy and an underwater treadmill twice a week. “When the pandemic started,” Dr. Mead told Assisi, “ I advised them to get the Loop so they could do daily treatments. With the daily treatments, she improved to the point I could start adding exercises and now she has her brace and is not looking back.” Dr. Mead has also recently used the Loop on a non-visual cat with a broken jaw: “We put it around his neck and immediately after his sessions, he would eat ravenously, after a few days he could see, and a week later had the mandible repair and was visual. He loves his treatments. The humane society uses it now on all the post-op amputations and femoral head ostectomies that they get.” For Dr. Peterson, the Assisi Loop has been extremely helpful for those pet owners that aren’t physically able to come in for their pet’s treatments. She comments, “I am currently seeing a dog who had surgery for intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) recently. This patient has elderly owners who travel more than two hours to see us for weekly rehabilitation therapy, even with the COVID-19 threat. The Assisi Loop allows them a convenient home modality option between their weekly in-clinic sessions, aiding in his post-hemilaminectomy recovery.”

Dr. Alvarez is also thrilled that the Loop is helping one of her patients recover from an arterial thromboembolism. She told Assisi, “The owner was grateful to have a device she could use at home to help her pet’s recovery.”


The New Normal


As states decide on reopening timelines and some non-emergency vets reopen, new trends are beginning to emerge in the veterinary industry. In particular, the pandemic has brought attention to the need for preventative care. Stuck at home all day, pet owners are becoming more attuned to the needs of their pets.  In a survey of 1,000 pet owners conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, 67 percent of respondents say they plan to adjust the way in which they care for their pet post-lockdown, with 20 percent stating they will commit to bringing their pet to the vet for preventative check-ups.


Preventative care is not only essential to stave off physical ailments, but also to avoid negative behavioral changes. According to the same survey, 73 percent of pet owners are nervous about leaving their pet home alone, with 59 percent stating they are worried their pet will develop separation anxiety. Many veterinarians are warning that it is very possible pets could become anxious when their owners return to work. Assisi Animal Health has its own database of dog owners who have taken a comprehensive quiz to see how likely it is that their dog suffers from canine separation anxiety (CSA). Some of the most common CSA behaviors owners reported in the Calmer Canine Quiz include severe shadowing (27%) and excessive greeting (23%). Anticipating their return to work, more and more pet owners are reaching for The Calmer Canine Anxiety Treatment System, an at-home therapy device that reduces inflammation in the anxiety center of the brain. The therapy system has had impressive results, drastically reducing behaviors related to CSA.


Looking Ahead


In difficult times, dedication leads to innovation. The pandemic has created challenges for professionals, but it has also led to a transformation in the way veterinarians – and pet owners – care for pets. Telemedicine, for example, will help pet owners with limited time see their vet remotely, rather than having to choose whether to skip the vet visit all-together. As 2020 continues, these creative measures will become part of our “new normal,” not simply because they are important safety measures, but because they open up new opportunities for helping animals. Flexibility, creativity, and therapeutic technology can all be a part of the new veterinary future.