Veterinarians provide social distancing care during pandemic

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Veterinarians are adapting how they work to make sure pets are getting the care they need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Paws at Home vets bring exams, shots and euthanasia to pet owners' homes.

The Burnes family started the process to get an 11-week-old puppy before the stay-at-home order. The family's 5-year-old dubbed her Pearl Marshmallow and they say she couldn't have come at a better time when she arrived at their home two-and-a-half weeks ago.

"It's been great. It was such a welcome distraction, to be honest, during this time," said Bailee Burnes.

But being brand new to the South Burlington home, the English cream golden retriever needed the usual heartworm check and vaccines as soon as possible. So Burnes called Paws at Home, a mobile vet service, to bring the examination to her front door.

"It's so convenient. It makes everybody calm, they're in their element, and especially with Pearl, being a little puppy and needed the different vaccines and things. It's been great to have that opportunity to make sure she stays current without having to go into a vet office or anything and take any of those risks," said Burnes.

Most brick-and-mortar vet offices currently have restricted public access and rely on telehealth. Paws at Home allows more access, said company owner Caroline Horn. But she says they still had to make significant adjustments.

"We no longer go into homes like we used to, and that we kind of miss because that's such low key for the animals," Horn said.

"The animals are a little more freaked out than they would be in the home, which is the whole point of us coming to the home. So, it's kind of a bummer, but glad to have the van because we can actually have that option," said Erin Teodosio, a veterinary assistant.

Horn and Teodosio conduct examinations and conversations outside, either in the van or in the yard. They wear masks and ask the owners to do so as well.

Horn says the biggest change to the business is how they do home euthanasia. She says trying to respect both environmental precautions and personal emotions is a challenge. She now asks that only two people be present and they stay at least six feet away. And she says requests for at-home euthanasia have increased during the pandemic.

"I have a long extension line that I hook up once I put the IV catheter in, so I'm able to back off and allow the owners to be there when they need to be there," said Horn.

Horn says she and new pet owners like Burnes anticipate they'll have to employ mobile vet options with adjustments for at least another year.

"We talk about getting back to normal, but I think that this could potentially be a new normal for us for a while," said Burnes.

Horn continues to administer vaccines because she considers them a critical treatment. She says leptospirosis, Lyme disease and rabies are all diseases prominent in our region, especially in the spring.

LOCAL VETERINARY CLINICS TURN TO TELEHEALTH

Essex Veterinary Center has also had to make changes since the stay-at-home order. They've numbered parking spots in the lot out front, so when clients arrive, they call on their phone and a vet will come outside to get the pet's history from the car and then bring the animal inside

Owners aren't allowed inside, but the center's Elizabeth Miquel realized right away that a lot of people wouldn't or couldn't physically come to the practice, so she found an app called Televet through which she can examine pets with technology.

The client downloads the app on a phone or computer, sends a request for a consultation, uploads photos of the animal and talks with the provider through video chat or instant messaging.

Miquel says the app has allowed her to expand her reach as far as New Hampshire, helping even exotic animals.

"I have to say that just recently I had a client where I had to teach the owner how to tube feed her duck. So I called Stowe Veterinary Clinic and they were amazing and I said will you sell her -- I gave them a list of things to sell her because they live in Stowe. They went to the clinic, picked it up, called me back, and on video conference I taught them how to tube feed their duck. It's super cool," said Miquel.

Vets are usually required to have a valid client-patient relationship, which means once a year you must do a physical exam on the animal, but the American Veterinary Medical Association has loosened those requirements so vets don't have to see the animal in person to treat them.

Miquel says her practice is prioritizing emergency care including vaccines.