Mitchell called first and found her vet already had safety precautions in place.
"When I went they were only letting one person at a time into the clinic and making sure that everything was very clean," she said. "And they keep us in the loop on any new precautions with emails. Now if I need to go, a person in full protective garb will pick up the dogs from the car."
Veterinarians Dr. Will Draper and Dr. Francoise Tyler, who own a number of veterinary clinics in metro Atlanta, immediately implemented virtual telemedicine visits for their clients.
A husband-and-wife team who starred in the NatGeo Wild series "Love and Vets
," Draper and Tyler have experience with video production and have produced helpful (and funny) explainers on what to expect during a curbside
or telemedicine visit
at their facilities.
For telemedicine, the couple uses a downloadable app that allows text, audio and video communication between a vet and a client to determine if the concern is worth the risk of a visit.
Draper often works into the night to triage pets into such medical categories as "don't worry about it" or "let's try this and see how your pet is tomorrow" or "we need to do an examination, so you'll need to bring your pet to the clinic."
A dog's life
A lot of the non-emergency calls are from dog owners who never realized how much their pet scratched or licked a body part until they were home with them all day, every day, Draper said.
"Dogs typically lick their rear ends or feet or scratch their ears a few times a day," Draper said. "But now owners are seeing it and think their dog has fleas or an allergy. I also see a lot of limping dogs who've pulled a muscle playing Frisbee and need to rest for 24 hours."
If the pet needs to come in -- and many do -- the clinics have elaborate safety plans in place to protect both the clients and the vets and their teams, Draper said.
"We've numbered the parking lots at all the hospitals and we'll tell clients to pull in space one, space two, space three. When they've done that, they call us and one of the technicians goes out with gloves and a mask and brings the pet into the clinic," Draper said.
"Then we will either video conference with them while they're in the car or just call them on the phone and discuss what we've found and our recommendations for their pet."
The various procedures are working well, the couple said, so it's likely their clinics will continue to offer a telemedicine option after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
"I do miss interacting with my clients directly," Tyler said, "which is why I often ask to do a video conference call with them, so I can see and talk to them. Plus it helps when I'm giving them advice to see their reactions and their facial expressions to be sure they understand what I'm saying and are not concerned."
So how can you have the most successful "virtual" visit to the vet during the age of coronavirus?
State regulations, including telemedicine
First, know the regulations in your state, which your vet can tell you when you call. While veterinary practices across the United States are typically considered "essential" and can remain open, many states have suspended various "elective" procedures such as spaying, neutering and dental cleanings.
A listing of state restrictions during the pandemic can be found
on the American Veterinary Medical Association website.
States may differ on who is allowed to use telemedicine, according to Dr. Dana Varble, who is chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community.
"Most states still require a physical exam to establish a valid VCPR [veterinarian-client-patient-relationship]," Varble said.
In Georgia, where Draper and Tyler practice, telemedicine consults are restricted to pets who are current clients.
"We have to have a veterinary client-patient relationship with the owner and have seen the pet within the last 12 months in order to be able to do a medical consult," Draper said. "The US Food and Drug Administration recently relaxed the rules on that requirement, but the state of Georgia did not adopt that change."
Because few vets in the Atlanta area are offering telemedicine, new client business has grown, Draper said, but all new clients must first be examined in the office before a virtual re-check can be scheduled.
"I log into our system and see that they're not a patient of ours, and I have to say, 'Unfortunately I can't provide a diagnosis or prescribe medication for your pet,'" Draper said. "I can give you advice as I would to a client who calls in for the first time at the hospital, but that's all unless they come in."
Surgery for injuries and other emergency procedures are typically allowed, and many vets are providing other "essential" services such as important vaccinations.
Rabies vaccination. "By law, you cannot put off your rabies shots," Draper said. "If your dog needs a kennel cough vaccine or something like that, we just tell them you should wait because you're not going to be boarding them or going to a groomer right now anyway.
"However, if a dog is due for a rabies vaccine on May 1 and he bites somebody on May 3, he has to be quarantined. So we have to make sure that they're current on rabies."
Your puppy or kitten's vaccine series. Just like with human babies, young kittens and puppies need protective shots at specific times within a 16-week period. This may also apply to the many rescue dogs and cats that people are adopting or fostering during the pandemic.
Emergency services. Try to call first, even in an emergency. If it's after-hours, vets who provide 24-7 urgent care will still have new procedures in place on where to park, which entrance to use, and how to properly wear protective clothing such as a mask and gloves.
How to optimize your drop-off visit
When you do visit your vet for a consult, please consider abiding by the following etiquette to protect both you, your pet and your vet.
Call first. It's different from the days when you could just show up with your pet. You need to know the parking, billing and drop-off procedure.
You should also be prepared to answer questions on your health status and that of your family. If you've been exposed to Covid-19 or work in a profession that puts you at risk, you might be asked to have a different member of the family bring the pet.
Be patient. When you arrive, please be patient. Visits could take much longer these days, mostly due to the extra precautions.
"With the time it takes to call from the car, find the records, ask the tech to sanitize a