Arkansans with pets could face additional dilemmas as the coronavirus continues to spread, including whether a trip to the veterinarian is necessary.
Dr. Eric Jayne is the medical director for Spay Arkansas and a veterinarian. He says the American Veterinary Medical Association has sent out recommendations for veterinarians to follow. One of those recommendations is to suspend non-essential services such as dental check-up, spay and neuter services or other appointments that could wait.
"They want the veterinarian field to conserve medical resources that might need to be used for the human medical side," Jayne said. While Arkansas is closing more "non-essential" businesses in the state to slow the spread of the virus, Jayne says there is not yet a verdict on whether veterinarian clinics would be classified as "essential." In the meantime, there are recommendations on using "virus-safe protocols."
"Calling ahead, the client comes to the clinic, waits in the car. Then an employee comes out who is protected with a mask, probably gloves and then the animal is examined out there and treated out there, or brought into the clinic without the owner," Jayne said.
The option of telemedicine for animals is also being explored. Jayne says the veterinary community had largely been against the idea of telemedicine for animals.
"But now they’re realizing this is a good thing. Where people can call, people that the veterinarian has already seen their pet, can call in and say. 'Oh my dog is having trouble breathing today, this dog has a history of this and that.' The veterinarian can make a telemedicine diagnosis," Jayne said.
The virus is also causing the state’s animal shelters to change their policies. According to the Humane Society of Pulaski County, they are no longer open to the general public and any adoption appointments must be made ahead of time. They have also temporarily lowered their adoption fee to $25.
Amanda Good, state director of the Humane Society of U.S. Arkansas, says lots of shelters are changing how they operate on a daily basis, including a call for people to consider fostering an animal.
"By adopting or fostering an animal, you’re actually reducing the strain on shelters when an increased number of people become ill or when they’re facing financial difficulties, or they simply can’t care for their pet," Good said
As far as fostering animals, the Pulaski County Humane Society is currently focusing more on adoption, but says on its website it will let the public know if fostering becomes a greater need.
While Good says the number of people adopting and fostering animals in Arkansas has seen an increase since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re also seeing an increase in people dropping off their pets. That could be due to a loss of employment or other reasons.
"There has been an increase because people are sick and there’s nobody…they haven’t made plans or they didn’t have the opportunity to make plans for somebody to take care of their animals. That’s also always a concern," Good said. "And then in some very rare cases we have seen a couple of reports where people are actually worried that their animal has coronavirus or that they could get it from their animal, which I want to say very clearly there is no evidence that that is possible."
One piece of advice Good offers for pet owners is to develop a preparedness plan for their pets.
"That sort of looks like ‘Here are some things that you can do ahead of time to make sure that if somebody in your family gets sick, or if there is a need for whatever reason to move or any of those things, you have those things in place so that your pets are safe," Good said.
That plan includes identifying a family member or friend who can care for your pets and making sure you have food, crates or other supplies needed in case there is a need to move. Good also recommends making copies of your pet’s medical records, making sure your pets vaccines are up to date if possible and to update any microchips your pet may have.
Jayne thinks the pandemic will bring out a great appreciation of pets.
"I think the importance of pets is going to become apparent to people as they’re isolated. Especially people that are isolated alone. If they have a pet, they’ll be less lonely," Jayne said.