COVID-19 coronavirus disease information for veterinary practitioners

Updated 25 March 2020

As the COVID-19 situation develops, Vetboard Victoria understands that veterinary practitioners in Victoria are reviewing their current practices and protocols and taking necessary steps to ensure the wellbeing of their staff and clients. The Board encourages Victorian veterinarians to continue to provide quality care to animals by making necessary and sensible adjustments to the way they provide services so as to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to themselves, their colleagues and their clients.

Click on the links below for more information and resources:


Can veterinary practices continue operating?

On Tuesday 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced further restrictions intended to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 coronavirus disease. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews subsequently confirmed these Stage 2 measures.

Workplaces to close are listed in the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's advice to National Cabinet about social distancing (25 March 2020).

Vetboard Victoria has received a range of queries from the profession. A common question is whether veterinary practices are included in business closures (or will be included in future closures). At this stage, we have not been informed of any closure orders for veterinary practices. Current information indicates that veterinary practices can remain open while following recommendations on risk minimisation and physical distancing.

Veterinary practitioners can be assured that we have requested clarification on the classification of veterinary practices in the event of further business restrictions, and what this may mean for your day-to-day operations. We are closely monitoring advice from Government authorities including the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (Agriculture Victoria). We will continue to keep you informed as we receive further information. 

Vetboard Victoria appreciates that this is a stressful and challenging time, and we encourage you to reach out with your questions. Following Government recommendations, Vetboard Victoria staff are now working in different ways. We are continuing with our core business of processing registrations and receiving and investigating complaints; and we are addressing enquiries as usual. As Australian telecommunications networks may be congested at this time, we ask that you email your queries to [email protected] or use our website contact form. If you are able to leave a voicemail on 9620 7444, the voicemail will be converted to a message and we will respond as soon as possible.

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Support for veterinary practitioners

Government information and directives on COVID-19:

Professional support for veterinary practitioners:

Personal support for veterinary practitioners:

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Precautions to minimise risk of transmission during consultations

When consulting with clients, veterinary practitioners must take precautions to minimise the risk of being infected with (or spreading) COVID-19. 

The latest advice, information and resources on precautions to minimise risk of infection are available at www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus (Victoria) and www.health.gov.au (Australian Government). 

Consult the Australian Government's information on social distancing. Means of limiting contact or limiting opportunities for viral transmission may include measures such as:

  • incorporating the following into new booking procedures (telephoning each client up to 24 hours before an appointment):
    • firmly establishing ownership of each animal
    • establishing the most appropriate communication channel for the owner during the treatment period, as this may not be able to occur in person
    • discussing your approach to the consultation, particularly ensuring that any client with cold or flu-like symptoms does not enter your premises (they could get another person to bring the animal)
    • outcomes of new booking procedures could include: normal admission, car admission, leaving an animal at a drop-off point, asking a client to have someone else present the animal, or rescheduling the appointment.
  • where appropriate and safe, implementing “carpark consultations” to limit the number of people in waiting rooms and minimise interaction between clients and clinic staff
  • setting up drop-off points at clinic entrances where animals can be placed in a secure area to be collected for examination then returned afterwards
  • wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), particularly masks and goggles, when interacting with clients
  • postponing provision of non-essential services that will not impact an animal’s health or welfare if delayed, e.g. grooming services. 

Veterinary practitioners are reminded that, where direct contact with clients is limited (e.g. if clients leave their animal at a drop-off point or arrange for another person to present their animal to the clinic), it is critical that practitioners communicate directly with the owner via telephone or video to ensure that the veterinary practitioner has the animal’s full and correct history and any veterinary advice or direction is clearly explained to and understood by the animal’s owner. 

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Telemedicine - remote, teleconferenced and assisted-technology consultations

While direct physical examination of a patient by a veterinary practitioner is both central to quality veterinary care and required for establishing a bona fide veterinary-client-patient relationship, the Board takes the view that, for the period of the pandemic emergency and in order to promote social distancing, remote consultations may provide an adequate alternative to face-to-face consultations under the following constraints:

  • the client is an existing/returning client of the veterinary clinic
  • the animal has previously been examined at/by the veterinary clinic
  • the owner is provided with options which include access to a hands-on patient consultation 
  • the veterinarian conducting the consult can assure themselves that the history and subjective information provided by the owner, by telephone or video, is sufficient to implement a therapeutic plan
  • a full veterinary medical record is maintained for each remote consultation. The record should include all information about the case, including those aspects that cannot be determined remotely; all points of discussion with the owner about treatment options; and recommendations and decisions.

The decision to provide a remote consultation is the responsibility of the individual veterinary practitioner exercising their professional judgement: 

  • Have I, or my colleagues, examined and made appropriate records about this animal recently enough to allow sufficient understanding of its health and management status? 
  • Is this a condition or complaint that can be adequately assessed remotely? 
  • Is a physical examination of the animal needed? 
  • Is a blood test or other diagnostic test required? Can any samples be safely and feasibly collected and submitted by the owner/agent without compromising animal wellbeing?  
  • What is the scope of the advice I can appropriately provide, given the limited contact/inability to physically examine the animal?

It is the Board’s view that remote consultations may be used to provide general advice or health information and to undertake some general triage to determine the urgency or need for immediate referral to a veterinary practitioner for direct care. The Board reminds practitioners that they must exercise caution in offering any presumptive diagnoses, prognoses and therapeutic recommendations remotely, and must clearly communicate any limitations in doing so and alternative options to the owner. Veterinarians deciding to provide such services during state-of-emergency periods must continue to maintain professional standards, as expected by their peers and the public. 

If prescribing or supplying medications during a remote consultation, practitioners must ensure that they comply with Regulation 38 of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Regulations 2017 and the related Board Guideline on supplying drugs and other medications. Requirements include ensuring that:

  • the client is a bona fide client (or the agent of a bona fide client)
  • the animal/herd is under the care of the veterinary practitioner
  • a therapeutic need for the drug or medication has been established (and for scheduled medications, that all reasonable steps have been taken to establish a therapeutic need)
  • side effects and precautions for the use of the medication have been discussed with the owner
  • appropriate clinical records are kept, and
  • provision is made for after-care if needed.

For the full list of matters to take into account when supplying medications, refer to Board Guideline 6: ‘Supply and use of drugs, scheduled drugs and other medications in veterinary practice’.

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Animal to human or animal to animal transmission of COVID-19

  • See COVID-19 advice for animal owners (Agriculture Victoria, Department of Jobs, Precincts & Regions)
  • There is no information available to enable a risk assessment of the potential for animal to human transmission. However, there has not been any substantial investigation.
  • Information available today includes that one dog in Hong Kong was swabbed SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) positive, but did not seroconvert or show clinical signs of infection. 
  • Cats are known to be susceptible to and to transmit SARS CoV-1 (the virus of the 2003 SARS outbreak), which is a closely related virus to the current SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19). It may be prudent to wear PPE if handling cats from households with known exposure

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Considerations for continuity of care for animals

If a practice is unable to open because of illness or insufficient staff, veterinarians are reminded that they must have made arrangements for: 

  • emergency referral for their clients 
  • access to veterinary medical records, where needed, for continuity of care

Therefore, the Board advises veterinary practitioners to plan ahead, in collaboration with neighbouring practitioners, to ensure continuity of care for their animal patients.

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Quick links

Disclaimer

These external sites are controlled and produced by third parties. Links to these websites are provided by Vetboard Victoria for user information only, and do not constitute an endorsement of any material, product or service that may be found at those sites. Vetboard Victoria makes no warranty, guarantee or representation in relation to the accuracy, currency, correctness, reliability, usability, suitability or any other aspect of any information and/or materials contained in external links. Vetboard Victoria does not accept any liability for any form of loss or damage that may result from any person’s reliance on the information and/or materials contained in any external links.

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Vetboard Victoria operations

Vetboard Victoria's office will remain operational during normal business hours. Following the Prime Minister’s recommendations, the Vetboard Victoria staff is now working in different ways. We are continuing with our core business of processing registrations, receiving and investigating complaints, and addressing enquiries as usual.
Australian telecommunications networks are currently congested, so we encourage you to email your queries at [email protected] or use our website contact form. If you are able to leave a voicemail on 9620 7444, the voicemail will be converted to a message and we will respond as soon as possible

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