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Veterinarians fear for pets’ health after one in four owners admit to missing appointments during pandemic

Rising numbers of veterinary practices are offering telemedicine and digital consultations to encourage pet owners to keep up with routine animal healthcare despite restrictions

Veterinarians have warned of a resurgence of preventable diseases among domestic animals after one in four pet owners said they had delayed or missed appointments because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than one in 10 cats and dogs had missed routine treatment or care, such as primary vaccines, as a result, according to a poll of more than 3,200 owners across four countries.

The survey, commissioned by the global animal health association HealthforAnimals in partnership with leading animal health marketing and communications consultancy Pegasus, revealed safety fears around the risk of Covid-19 outside personal “social bubbles” were the primary driver despite a growing number of veterinarians offering remote consultations.

“These survey results reveal yet more worrying, secondary impacts of the pandemic, with pet owners reluctant to visit a veterinarian and animal health suffering as a result,” said Dr Simon Doherty, Senior Lecturer in Animal Health & Welfare, Queen’s University Belfast, and former President, British Veterinary Association.

“The reality is that veterinarians and veterinary services have been recognised as essential throughout the pandemic because animal health is a core element of public health. If pets are not receiving routine healthcare including vaccination, we could see an increase in preventable diseases and other health issues.”

Almost half (47 per cent) of pet owners surveyed said their veterinarian offered digital or remote appointments, an increase from 20 per cent before the pandemic. Just one per cent of pet owners said their veterinarian had not adopted special precautions in response to Covid-19, with social distancing requirements being the most reported in-person change.

“The veterinary industry has seen rapid technological transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a positive, but animal care providers, businesses and pet owners are learning to adjust,” said Luke Hopkins, of Pegasus, an Ashfield company, part of UDG Healthcare.

“From ensuring pet owners are aware of new veterinary services or practice opening hours, to educating on the importance of preventative health, clear communication is more important than ever in helping preserve animal health and wellbeing during this pandemic.”

Of the pet owners who used veterinary telemedicine during the pandemic, three quarters were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the service, with more than a third reporting it reduces the waiting time to speak to a veterinarian. More than one in five said digital or remote consultations meant veterinarians could dedicate more time to the appointment. More than 60 per cent agreed, to some extent, that they would be more likely to contact their veterinarian if they could do so virtually.

“Veterinary care is innovating as rapidly as human medicine, allowing more and more veterinarians to offer remote consultations and continue to deliver vital animal health services, even during a pandemic,” said Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, executive director of HealthforAnimals.

“Pet owners need not compromise on the health of their dogs and cats. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian are the cornerstone of good pet health.”

As well as common illnesses, around a third (32 per cent) of pet owners said they were concerned or very concerned about their animal catching Covid-19 despite only a handful of pets worldwide falling ill with the disease, all of which were instances of human-to-animal transfer.

“For many people, pets have provided much needed respite and comfort during the pandemic and its lockdowns. But owners also have a responsibility to make sure the pandemic does not negatively impact animals and their health,” said Dr. Marie-José Enders-Slegers, President, International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations.

“It is especially important that anyone who has adopted an animal during the pandemic seeks and follows veterinary advice to give young animals the best possible start in life and continues doing so after the pandemic.”

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