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Keeping Fido and Fluffy happy and healthy

Pet Health Center of Tiffin adjusts services in response to COVID-19
Dr. Eric Streif and registered veterinary technician Erika examine Bear, a four-month old Great Dane puppy recently at the Pet Health Center of Tiffin. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic has taken steps to minimize contact between staff and clients while providing optimal care to pets. (Photo provided by Dr. Allison Malandra, DVM)

TIFFIN– The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led most businesses to adjust how they deliver services in an effort to protect both employees and customers, and the Pet Health Center of Tiffin (PHCT) is no exception.
“We are committed to continuing to provide health care to the beloved pets of the local communities,” Dr. Allison Malandra said as she explained two initiatives PHCT has implemented: curbside service, and telemedicine.
“For the safety of our staff and clients we have moved to curbside service,” she said. Clients now call the clinic when they arrive, and a technician takes the history and discusses their concerns over the phone. “We then meet the client in between our double doors (to make transfers as safe as possible) and bring their pet into the clinic while they wait in their car.” The veterinarian then performs the physical exam and any pre-approved diagnostics (such as a heartworm test or ear swab) and vaccinations. The veterinarian then calls the owner to discuss the visit and any other recommendations, Dr. Malandra said.
Payment is made over the phone, and the owner meets the staff in the doorway to retrieve their pet. PHCT also offers contact-free medication, prescription food and supply pick-up in the entryway as well, and offers an online pharmacy service.
“We will also deliver medications directly to cars in our parking lot,” she added.
There are times, however, when clients are allowed to enter the building including when their animals are highly fearful or anxious and the owner’s presence will benefit them. Owners are also allowed in to say goodbye to their cherished companion during euthanasia.
“Clients have been very understanding and respectful of our curbside service,” said Malandra. “They are aware that if one of our staff gets sick this would greatly impact our ability to provide care for their pets.”
Telemedicine consultation is another way of seeking help for pets, although Malandra cautions it is not appropriate for all situations.
“One of the cornerstones in veterinary medicine is something called the Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). In its most basic sense, it requires veterinarians to have examined an animal in the last year so we have a reasonable knowledge of the animal, and their current health before we can do things like provide medical advice and prescribe any medications.” She noted the State of Iowa had previously not allowed a VCPR to be established without an actual exam, but in light of the COVID-19 crisis, some of the requirements were temporarily reduced in March for companion animals only, and not for livestock.
The service is available during regular business hours, and as with the curbside service, the client calls the clinic and speaks with a receptionist and/or support staff to see if a telemedicine consultation is a viable option. “While we wish we could do telemedicine consultations for the majority of our patients, this is simply not practical,” Malandra said. “Since animals cannot verbally tell us what is wrong, many times a physical exam is required to direct diagnosis and treatment.”
Malandra explained cats in particular are very good at hiding illness and injury due to their instincts as natural predators. Dogs also pose a challenge, she said, as a young Labrador who is vomiting cannot simply be prescribed an anti-nausea medication unless it has been ruled out that there isn’t a swallowed sock causing an internal obstruction. Likewise, a lethargic and not-eating male cat could have a life-threatening urinary obstruction, which must be quickly identified and treated.
But when a telemedicine consultation is appropriate, staff will schedule a time with the client, and the veterinarian will call them to discuss the case. “We will then make treatment, monitoring, and follow-up recommendations,” she said. “It is possible the consultation will result in the recommendation to bring the pet in for a physical exam and other diagnostics such as blood work and x-rays.” The cost for the service is $40 for a 30-minute appointment.
After-hours concerns are all directed to the local emergency hospitals for emergent and urgent care. Also, PHCT is limiting the service to established clients/patients due to the limitations of telemedicine consultations.
Last year, PHCT opened an outdoor treatment space, which, with proper social distancing, will provide an opportunity for seeing clients face-to-face. “We definitely look forward to resuming this service for pets that do better outside the clinic,” she said pointing out cooler and rainy spring weather has limited its use so far this year. “Talking on the phone works pretty well, but we much prefer that direct communication with our clients.”
Malandra also offered some tips for keeping pets happy and healthy, saying “Most dogs are thrilled to have their owner home for more hours of the day! They are enjoying more playtime, and more walks. Some cats, on the other hand, are probably wishing for their daytime solitude to resume!” keeping pets on their heartworm and flea and tick preventatives is vital, especially as their time outside increases with the warmer weather. “This not only helps to keep the pets safe, it helps to keep the humans that love them safe from threats like ticks that carry Lyme disease and other infectious diseases,” she noted.
She said the clinic is seeing many clients with new puppies, and is reminding them to be sure to acclimate the pups to kennels so when they eventually do return to work or school, the puppies will be okay with being crated during the day. “Socialization of new puppies has been somewhat of an issue, but that’s just the reality of the current situation,” she added. On a more positive note, she said “There really hasn’t been a better time in history to do so (adopt).”
The Pet Health Center of Tiffin is located at 1400 Tall Grass Ave. in Tiffin, just west of the Clear Creek Amana High School and can be reached by phone at 319-545-2273 (CARE). Online PHCT is at https://www.phctiffin.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PHCTiffin/.