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COVID-19, News, Online Exclusive, Viewpoints

Do we really want to postpone preventive care?

In these pandemic days, wellness visits might not be a priority, but the risks to animal health aren’t going away.

Do we really want to postpone preventive care?

Like all of us, I’m following with great interest the changing landscape of COVID-19 and am especially appreciative of our associations’ continuously updating the profession and providing expert guidance.

However, I’m troubled by the recommendation that we postpone preventive care. I’m struck by our profession’s long-term discounting of the value of wellness care. With tens of millions of Americans turning to home and hearth, spending more time with their four-legged family than ever, is now the time to postpone a rabies or Lepto immunization? Is now the time to not discover that our patients are shedding ascarids? Is it OK to allow a pet to suffer while we defer a dental prophy? I wonder.

In both the veterinarian and veterinary nurse oath we pledge to protect animal health and welfare, prevent animal suffering, and promote public health. Does public health trump animal health? A healthy human population is dependent on a healthy animal population. A healthy pet population is dependent on our delivering preventive care. Doesn’t public health go hand in hand with animal health? I wonder. There’s no shortage of data supporting the human-animal bond and how the bond supports human health.

In human health care there is a distinction between elective and non-elective. A tummy tuck is elective, an appendectomy is not. Given today’s COVID-19 strain on our human health care system, it makes sense for physicians to postpone a tummy tuck.

What is elective and what is not elective in veterinary care? Are we straining our veterinary health care system? Can we put off a mass removal? Maybe not. It could be malignant. An ovariohysterectomy? We might get an unwanted pregnancy. Maybe not elective. Routine immunizations? What about zoonotic implications? Maybe not. A dental? Should pain be deferred? Maybe not.

Are we discounting the value of preventive/wellness care in favor of reactive care, much of which may have been avoided had we been proactive and practiced preventive care in the first place? I wonder. Preventive care is just that: preventive. It’s meant to keep animals healthy and hopefully put off future visits concerning disease and illness.

Are we setting ourselves up for a boomerang outbreak of parvovirus, heartworm disease or other easily preventable conditions by delaying or limiting care today? How might this impact human health? I wonder. I’ve been told that this recommendation is in part to spare essential supplies. My vendors are telling me we’re OK for now. I’ve heard that the human medical community might ask for veterinary personal protective equipment. Don’t all essential health care providers deserve protection?

I get that we’re walking a thin line in balancing the health of ourselves, our teams, our clients and the patients in our care. But we’re already taking extraordinary precautions in treating the pets presented to us today. Is delaying a well-care visit appropriate? I don’t know, I wonder. What do you think? Either way, I think I’ll go wash my hands again.

Dr. Bob Lester is chief medical officer of WellHaven Pet Health and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He is the Today’s Veterinary Business Creative Disruption columnist and vice president of the North American Veterinary Community.

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