Curbside Veterinary Care: Benefits for You and Your Pet

By Catherine Barnette, DVM

If you have taken your pet for a veterinary visit in the past several months, or plan to do so in the near future, you may have heard the phrase “curbside veterinary care.” Many veterinarians are currently providing this service, for a number of reasons. Not only does curbside veterinary service protect you from COVID-19, it also protects the veterinary team and ensures that the hospital can remain open to treat your pets.

Curbside veterinary care is currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a way to achieve physical (social) distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19.

What is curbside veterinary care?

Hospitals providing curbside care have restructured their practice to avoid the need for clients to enter the lobby and exam rooms. This is designed to promote physical (social) distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While every curbside visit may look a little bit different, the general pattern is as follows:

  • You call the veterinary hospital to schedule an appointment and provide a brief summary of your concerns.
  • You may be asked to fill out a form in advance of your pet’s appointment.
  • You arrive at the veterinary hospital at your appointment time and call the reception desk to let them know you have arrived.
  • A veterinary assistant or veterinary technician comes to your car to retrieve your pet.
  • Your concerns and your pet’s medical history are reviewed. If you bring a written letter for the veterinary team, that can be a big help in conveying detailed information. If you do not bring a written list, the veterinary assistant may speak with you briefly at your car or may call you from inside the building for a more in-depth conversation.
  • The veterinarian performs a thorough physical examination on your pet. Depending on how the appointment is scheduled, you may be asked to wait in your car during your pet’s visit, or you may be given a pick-up time later in the day so that you are free to leave the parking lot.
  • The veterinarian or veterinary technician calls with an update on your pet’s health and provides an estimate for any recommended services.
  • Diagnostics and treatments are performed as authorized.
  • Your pet is returned to you and payment is collected.

Different veterinary hospitals may have slight differences in their protocols, but most practices follow a similar general format for curbside visits. In some cases, curbside care may be combined with aspects of telemedicine, such as video conferencing or text messaging. For example, your veterinarian may use a telemedicine platform to provide videoconferencing during your pet’s visit, allowing you to watch your pet’s exam and have a “face to face” meeting with the veterinarian in a safe, socially-distant manner. For more information on telemedicine, see the handout “Telemedicine and How it Works”. If you have questions about your veterinary hospital’s protocol, ask for more information when you schedule your appointment.

What are the benefits of curbside care?

Curbside care offers a number of benefits for you and your pet.

First, by providing curbside care, your veterinarian is eliminating the need for you to enter the veterinary practice. Veterinary practices are busy facilities, with many employees and clients entering and exiting the lobby and exam room on a daily basis. Unlike grocery stores and other big-box stores, veterinary hospitals also tend to be small, offering less ventilation than you would experience in a large retailer. A single positive client or employee could potentially trigger a large outbreak of COVID-19 in a busy veterinary practice.

"Curbside care increases the likelihood that your veterinary team
will continue to be available for your pet."

Second, curbside care protects the veterinary team and, in turn, your pet. A number of veterinary hospitals have had to close temporarily during this pandemic. If a significant number of employees become ill with COVID-19 or are required to quarantine due to exposure, a hospital just cannot stay open. When these hospitals are closed, they are unable to care for their patients, who must then be referred to an emergency hospital or another veterinary facility. Curbside care increases the likelihood that your veterinary team will continue to be available for your pet.

Are there exceptions to curbside care?

In most veterinary hospitals, exceptions to curbside care are rare. If the practice were to make an exception for one client, there are probably another 20 clients (or more) that day that will have an equally good reason to request an exception. The benefits of curbside care would quickly be lost in that scenario.

The one exception to curbside care, in many practices, is euthanasia. Veterinarians understand that euthanasia is an emotional time and strive to allow clients to be with their pets, if possible. Your veterinarian will likely have alternative physical distancing plans for euthanasia, which may include requiring clients to wear a mask or even performing the euthanasia outdoors. Ask your veterinary team if you have questions about euthanasia during this time.


Will my pet be anxious without me?

While it is entirely natural to worry that your pet will be anxious without you in the room, the surprising truth is that many pets appear less stressed with curbside care! Keeping the exam room and lobby closed limits the flow of people and animals through the hospital, which creates a low-stress environment which in turn helps many pets feel more relaxed.

If your pet tends to be very anxious for veterinary visits and you are concerned about how they will react away from you, speak to the receptionist about your concerns when scheduling the appointment. There may be steps that can be taken to minimize your pet’s stress, such as prescribing a mild anti-anxiety medication to be administered before the visit. If your veterinarian uses videoconferencing or text messaging, this may also provide a way for you to visually “check in” with your pet during the course of the day.


Will I get to talk to my veterinarian?

Even in curbside care, you will have an opportunity to speak with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians aim to call each client prior to discharging the pet, in order to discuss findings and recommendations. In some cases, communication with your veterinarian may take place over a telemedicine platform, via videoconferencing and/or text message communication.

Occasionally, if the­­­ p­­­ractice is busy with emergencies or you are in a rush and cannot wait to speak to your veterinarian, information may be relayed through a veterinary assistant or technician. If necessary, feel free to ask for a follow-up call from your veterinarian when they are available, to discuss concerns in more detail.

Is there anything I can do to make my curbside visit go smoothly?

With curbside care, it definitely helps to be prepared! Bring a written list of your concerns, which you can give to the veterinary team member who comes to the car for your pet. Include any information that might be helpful for your veterinarian and any special requests that you have. If your veterinary practice has emailed forms for you to fill out prior to your visit, make sure that you do so.

"Bring a written list of your concerns, which you can give to the veterinary team member who comes to the car for your pet."

One of the greatest challenges of curbside care and the lack of face-to-face interaction, can come in the form of checking lumps and bumps. If you have a particular mass that you want your veterinarian to examine, describe its location in detail or draw a diagram. If the mass might be difficult for your veterinarian to find, consider marking it for your veterinarian. There are a number of ways to do this, including clipping a small amount of hair around the mass, using eyeliner to circle the mass, or applying a small dot of nail polish to the coat near the mass. Taking a photo of the mass, which you can show to a team member or send to your veterinarian via text message or other telemedicine platform, can be beneficial.

Be sure to bring your cell phone to your visit. You will need to use your phone to call the reception desk when you arrive and to communicate with the veterinary team while your pet is in the hospital.

While curbside care may offer some unique challenges, it truly is in the best interests of you and your pet. Be flexible, patient, and understanding during this strange time and trust that your veterinary team is doing their best to be as thorough and efficient as possible.

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