COVID-19 triage: Determining which cases are urgent

Published on April 15, 2020
Coronavirus with white background

Veterinary practices provide essential services that need to be available when needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But whenever veterinary teams come into contact with clients, there’s risk that COVID-19 could be transmitted among the participants. Determining which patients have urgent cases that require in-person examination is critical to minimize that risk and protect both veterinary teams and clients.

A new AVMA triage resource is available to help veterinary teams identify urgent versus non-urgent cases and determine when in-person examinations are necessary. It includes a downloadable flowchart with recommendations for managing cases that are urgent, potentially urgent, and not currently urgent.

It also includes sample questions to help judge the severity of any given case, such as: 

  • Is treatment necessary to preserve the animal’s life?
  • Is the animal experiencing serious pain that affects its health, welfare, and/or safety?
  • If not treated now, could the animal develop significant health or welfare issues that would become life-threatening, cause irreversible harm, or interrupt or jeopardize the safety of the food supply? 

The information is intended to help the veterinary decision-making process, but ultimately veterinarians must continue to use our professional judgement in determining whether a case is urgent or non-urgent. All veterinary services must follow federal, state, and local mandates regarding essential business operations, social distancing, and safety requirements for staff.

Use of telemedicine

Telemedicine is an option that we encourage veterinarians to consider in both urgent and non-urgent cases – as long as its use complies with federal and state requirements. Unless an animal is suffering from an obvious medical emergency, taking a few minutes to collect a thorough history from the owner over the phone or using other other telemedicine tools can provide valuable information that can help determine whether an in-person examination or premise visit is needed, and within what timeframe. AVMA’s COVID-19 resources include information about using telemedicine during COVID-19

Stay informed as the COVID-19 situation evolves

The veterinary profession continues to adapt in the face of COVID-19, and the AVMA is committed to supporting the entire veterinary community through the pandemic. We continue to develop new resources and tools to help veterinary teams navigate these challenging times. You’ll find them all at

To stay informed as new tools are released, subscribe to this blog and follow AVMA’s social media pages.


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