When to Call Your Vet

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on August 11, 2021
4 min read

Has your local vet or animal clinic cut back services due to COVID-19? Pets still need care during a pandemic. While some health problems are emergencies, you can put more routine care off until later. It all depends on what stage your area is in regarding lockdown or reopening.

When do you call your vet for an appointment, when do you wait, and what do you do if you need to take your pet into the clinic? How do you keep your dog or cat healthy and stick to social distancing rules? Here’s what you need to know to keep you and your companion animal safe.

If your pet is sick or injured, you should still call your vet for urgent care. Always call before you go to the clinic.

Due to social distancing guidelines, how clinics care for your dog or cat may be different than usual. Here are some changes:

  • Some vet clinics are open but don’t offer all services. You should delay nonemergency care like spay or neuter surgery. Some clinics will only treat animals who have urgent health problems or need shots that you can’t put off, such as for rabies. You can postpone annual wellness exams or other shots for now. If your pet has a broken tooth, swelling, or bleeding in their mouth, call your vet.
  • Your vet may offer curbside care. You may be able to drive up to the clinic for your appointment and call the staff from your car. Your vet may examine your cat or dog while the animal stays inside your car, or they may check you in and then take your pet inside for an exam while you wait outside. In the event that your dog or cat is gravely ill and you’ll need to put them to sleep, your vet should be able to bring you both inside the clinic for this procedure.
  • Some clinics now offer telemedicine. You may be able to schedule a remote visit with your vet and talk with them over a webcam or smartphone. Your vet may start with telemedicine triage -- a quick chat with you to figure out if your cat or dog needs to come into the clinic or can be cared for without a face-to-snout visit.
  • Some clinics have closed temporarily. This could happen if their local government doesn’t count vet care as an essential business, or because a staff member or recent visitor was diagnosed with COVID-19 and could pass it to other people. In most cases, it depends on where your area is regarding lockdown or reopening orders.
  • Your vet can prescribe drugs without a clinic visit. Laws about how vets can prescribe medicine have changed temporarily. You may be able to send your vet a video of your pet and get a prescription without a clinic visit.


When should you call your vet or emergency animal hospital to seek care for your pet right away? In either dogs or cats, these health conditions are emergencies that need prompt attention:

  • Bleeding that’s severe or doesn’t stop within a few minutes, as well as if your pet is bleeding from their nose, rectum, or mouth, or coughs up or pees blood
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that happens more than twice in 24 hours
  • Eye injuries
  • Obvious pain
  • Choking, nonstop cough or gagging, or shortness of breath
  • Not being able to poop or pee, or seeming to be in pain when they do
  • Fractures
  • Seizures or staggering
  • Eating or drinking something poisonous
  • Heatstroke or heat-related stress
  • Refusing to drink water for 24 hours or longer
  • Passing out


While you and your furry friend are stuck at home, it’s a great time to work on new skills or training. Play games with them to teach them obedience or socialization.

Here are some other tips to keep your four-legged friends healthy while social distancing:

Ease your pet’s anxiety. If you’re stressed out from being at home all the time, your pet will sense the tension. Stick to a routine at home so they don’t get stressed and act out by going potty inside or chewing your stuff. Try to stay calm as you talk to them.

Exercise is healthy for both you and your pet. It’s OK to take your dogs for walks outdoors. Keep a safe distance from other people or pooches. Cats need exercise and stimulation too. Encourage your kitty to play with toys inside the house. Build a “catio,” or a fenced, enclosed space outdoors where your cat can play and stay active.

Watch waistlines. Be careful that you don’t overfeed your four-legged pal while you’re stuck at home. Treats should make up no more than 10% of a dog’s calories each day. Instead of letting your cat graze all day long on a bowl of food, give them a can of wet food just at mealtimes if they seem to be getting fat.

Prepare for any minor emergencies. Make a pet first-aid kit in case your dog or cat has a minor scrape, cut, or other wound at home. You should have items like gauze, antibacterial ointment or soap, tweezers to remove splinters or ticks, and hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds.

Show Sources


American Animal Hospital Association: “Pandemic realities: Could animal hospitals be forced to close?”

American Veterinary Medical Association: “COVID-19: What Veterinarians Need to Know,” “Pet Dental Care,” “13 Animal emergencies that require immediate veterinary consultation and/or care.”

North Shore Animal League of America: “Caring for Your Pets During the Coronavirus Crisis,” “Pet First-Aid Kit Essentials.”

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: “COVID-19: Recommendations for Veterinary Practices.”

UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: “FAQs for Pet Owners During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Animal Medical Center of New York: “COVID-19 and Pets.”

FDA: “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Helps Facilitate Veterinary Telemedicine During Pandemic.”

People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals: “Exercise for Indoor Cats.”

American Kennel Club: “How Many Treats Can Your Dog Really Have?”

Cornell Feline Health Center: “Obesity.”

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