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Curbing Vet Visit Fear: The Curbside Approach to Veterinary Dermatology Visits

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This is Sophie. She’s a very good girl, but has been itching constantly. While her family, the Fosters, have enjoyed extra time at home together recently, Sophie’s scratching, chewing, and biting her skin is driving everyone crazy! And she’s not alone. Allergic skin disease is one of the most common reasons that pets need veterinary attention1.

Thankfully, Sophie’s family found resources online that helped them recognize signs of skin disease in their beloved pup. The Fosters suspected Sophie had a skin allergy problem. They didn’t want it to get worse, so they reached out to their veterinarian, Dr. Johnston, right away. Based on Sophie’s signs, Dr. Johnston recommended she come in for a visit by curbside drop-off. A curbside visit was a brand-new concept for the Fosters – and many other pet owners right now – so let’s take a look at their experience with Sophie’s appointment.

Preparing for their visit

Dr. Johnston advised the Fosters to make written notes about the changes they noticed in Sophie’s skin as well as treatments they had tried including medications, products (shampoos, creams, lotions), or home remedies. Like many owners of itchy dogs, the Fosters had already tried many remedies they found online or came recommended by friends, but nothing had helped Sophie’s itch. Although the list was long, the Fosters used resources available online here and here to record and organize all their notes and observations in one place.

Dr. Johnston also described what to expect for their curbside drop-off. The Fosters were told that a veterinary staff member would meet Sophie at their vehicle and take her inside the clinic, that they should remain in the parking lot and away from other cars and people during the visit, and that they should bring a fully-charged cell phone so that Dr. Johnston could communicate with them during the visit.

The Fosters reminded Dr. Johnston that Sophie is usually very anxious and stressed at the veterinary clinic. Dr. Johnston discussed strategies to reduce or eliminate that fear or stress such as anti-anxiety medications and supplements, calming pheromones, and bringing her favorite treats to give during the  appointment. They decided on an anti-anxiety medication that had worked well for Sophie in the past.

Arrival and curbside check-in

The Fosters, wearing facemasks to comply with their state’s safety guidelines, followed Dr. Johnston’s instructions on where to park and called the front desk to let them know they had arrived. A veterinary technician greeted them at their vehicle wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) – a mask, gloves, and a protective gown. The technician gently approached Sophie, offering treats to reduce her fear and anxiety. Once the technician placed one of the clinic’s slip leashes on Sophie, Mrs. Foster removed Sophie’s personal collar to prevent an outside item being brought into the clinic. The technician then walked Sophie into the clinic at a comfortable pace while giving her treats and reassuring her she was a good girl!

The technician brought Sophie directly into an exam room. The experience was different from Sophie’s usual vet visits; the absence of pet owners and other animals in the clinic waiting area and diligent cleaning and disinfection by staff meant that Sophie was not exposed to other animals, noises, and smells that usually caused her stress.

While waiting

Understandably, the Fosters felt anxious while Sophie was in her curbside appointment. It was difficult to be separated from their pup and to not be able to observe her examination. However, they were sure that Dr. Johnston and her staff would treat Sophie with considerate care and would involve the Fosters in all decisions made during the appointment so that they would feel confident and comfortable.

Dr. Johnston, with the help of a technician, performed a physical examination and identified areas of Sophie’s skin that appeared abnormal. While the technician occupied Sophie with treats, Dr. Johnston obtained samples noninvasively including an ear swab, flea combing to check for fleas, skin samples to check under a microscope (cytology) for bacteria and yeast, and a skin scraping to check for mites. Once the examination was complete, Dr. Johnston called the Fosters to discuss her findings – there was no evidence of a skin infection, fleas, or other parasites. Dr. Johnston recommended starting APOQUEL® (oclacitinib tablet) to treat her allergic itch and skin inflammation while initiating a food trial to rule out food allergy as a cause of her signs. Dr. Johnston instructed the Fosters that when administering APOQUEL, an oral medication, they should give Sophie a small treat first, a second treat with the medication, and a third treat after in order to make it a positive experience for Sophie.

Thanks to treats and a gentle approach from Dr. Johnston and her staff, Sophie did great during her visit. If she had showed signs of fear, anxiety, or stress as she had during previous visits, Dr. Johnston would have discussed with the Fosters options such as medications, supplements, and other strategies to use before and during the appointment to reduce or eliminate those negative sensations.

Pick-up and at home

Sophie’s veterinary technician returned her to the Fosters’ vehicle and helped them put Sophie’s collar back on and safely secure her for transport home. The Fosters were advised to monitor Sophie at home and to let Dr. Johnston know if they had concerns with Sophie’s progress or administering her medication. Often, dogs with allergic skin disease need other treatments such as medicated baths and ear medications; there are resources available online to help owners give medicated baths and administer ear medications. Dr. Johnston also recommended that the Fosters utilize resources available online to track Sophie’s itchiness at and  . The Fosters scheduled a recheck telemedicine appointment – a virtual visit with Dr. Johnston – in one week to check on Sophie’s progress.

While the concept of curbside veterinary care was new to the Fosters, they were happy with their experience and grateful that a curbside drop-off enabled Dr. Johnston to treat Sophie while minimizing stress and maximizing safety for the veterinary staff, the Fosters, and Sophie. And thanks to the APOQUEL, Sophie is well on her way back to her itch-free, happy self.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: APOQUEL. Do not use APOQUEL in dogs less than 12 months of age or those with serious infections. APOQUEL may increase the chances of developing serious infections and may cause existing parasitic skin infestations or pre-existing cancers to get worse. APOQUEL has not been tested in dogs receiving some medications including some commonly used to treat skin conditions such as corticosteroids and cyclosporines. Do not use in breeding, pregnant, or lactating dogs. Most common side effects are vomiting and diarrhea. APOQUEL has been used safely with many common medications including parasiticides, antibiotics and vaccines.

See full Prescribing Information at


  1. Nationwide Press Release. Most common medical conditions that prompt veterinary visits. Nationwide. March 14 2018. Retrieved December 30th 2018 from:

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Zoetis Petcare. APQ-01025

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