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Pets and Vets: How Tampa Bay veterinarians are treating pets during coronavirus

Tampa Bay animal doctors are changing how they’re treating pets during the pandemic but not the level of care they’re giving.

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TAMPA — Dr. David Thomassy is used to the long hours working as one of the primary veterinarians at his personal practice, Valrico Animal Hospital.

But something about his 12-hour day — one that started at 8 a.m. and didn’t end until just after 8 p.m. — made Thursday seem a little longer than usual.

It might have been the fact he was the only doctor available that day, but he said it also could have been from new steps his practice is having to take in light of coronavirus.

“The steps are a little longer and drawn out,” Thomassy said. “And it takes a little longer to get through the day.”

Valrico Animal Hospital is one of many in the Tampa Bay area that is requesting its clients stay outside of the practice and use “car-side service.”

Technicians will take pets inside for treatment once the client calls from the parking lot when they arrive for their appointment. A handful of calls are exchanged while the owners stay inside their vehicles. Even payment is taken over the phone after the receptionist goes over the final invoice.

And while handling pets in light of the coronavirus has changed, the mission and treatment of these furry friends remains the same.

“People have been very amenable and very understanding of the whole process,” Thomassy said. “They understand and they know the reasons why. It just takes a little longer.”

Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital in Valrico is treating pets in a similar fashion with owners staying outside and the facility only allowing pets inside.

Dr. Sharon Hunter, a vet of more than 32 years, said her practice is seeing non-emergent cases in addition to emergencies, particularly younger dogs that need to finish vaccine protocols and cases she believes should be seen now and and not three weeks later.

In Brooksville, Animal Health Veterinary Clinic is doing the same thing. Brenda Graham, 62, a recently retired registered nurse from New Mexico, said the process went very smoothly for her and her 16-week old puppy, Lucy.

The Weeki Wachee resident took in her Yorkshire terrier for the typical puppy shots (rabies, heartworm, flea, etc) and said the clinic was great with her despite the change in pace from the coronavirus outbreak. They gave her a heads-up on what the experience would be like when she scheduled Wednesday’s appointment and said that kind of advance was a huge help, too.

“The fact that they are continuing to do the preventative, routine kind of care for animals is fabulous,” Graham said. “I was okay (with the process). I might have been more nervous if they hadn’t explained everything super thoroughly. They were very communicative.”

Back in Valrico, Thomassy said he can typically talk to clients while examining their pet (sharing what he’s finding and what he thinks the best course of action is). But now, the veterinarian of almost 23 years said the process takes longer over the phone compared to face to face.

Thomassy said his boarding facilities are “suffering severely”, an anomaly for his practice’s large facility, which is normally booming during the springtime or “rocking full with animals.”

On the upside, Thomassy is now able to use those kennel employees to help maintain the practice’s sanitation, wiping down all the surfaces that technicians and doctors are using to treat the animals.

“Now, we have a little more time to pay attention to some of those things,” he said, “and do it more often during the day.”

Hunter said her practice already has an extended lunch break (two hours) for its employees, so having it divided into two shifts allows employees to deep-clean the clinic really well before the afternoon appointments begin. They still clean in between appointments, too, she said.

The CDC guidelines recommend that humans should stand at least 6 feet apart from one another, but Hunter said sometimes that isn’t realistic in her line of work. “We try to maintain that as much as we can,” she said, “but if someone needs to restrain a pet so I can examine it, that’s really difficult (to uphold). We’re doing the best we can.”

Thomassy, 49, said he hasn’t seen a decline in the “patients” he’s treating. If anything, he’s seen an increase because people are working more from home and are able to pay more attention to their pets.

“They’re seeing problems that are going on that maybe they normally wouldn’t have picked up on so quickly,” he said.

And while the coronavirus has brought its challenges for people purchasing weekly groceries and other luxury items like toilet paper, it’s also made it difficult for owners to purchase pet food.

“We can’t get prescription foods that pets need to be on for specific reasons, treating specific diseases,” Thomassy said. “That’s a big issue right now, too, so we’re trying to figure out what they can eat that won’t cause major problems.”

He said one client couldn’t buy their pet’s normal kangaroo-based food and had to switch to an over-the-counter product. The pet ended up getting pancreatitis.

“Issues like that, I think, are going to be a continual problem for the next month or so,” he said. “We treat them case-by-case...and try to pick something more bland, hypoallergenic and to their needs but it’s not easy. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Studies have shown that pets are not susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, however, there are concerns they can carry the disease. The best practices for combating the disease remain the same:

“Routine cleanliness, don’t kiss your pet, don’t put your lips on your pet.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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