Texas A&M VET Deploys To Support Tornado Recovery

Story by Jennifer Gauntt

several VET members some in masks in front of VET vehicles prior to deploying to Polk County, TX on April 25, 2020
Members of the VET prepare to deploy to Onalaska, Texas, on Apr. 25, 2020.

Seventeen members of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) deployed to Onalaska, Texas, on Saturday morning to serve citizens affected by the tornado that struck East Texas on Wednesday.

In Polk County, VET members will work with community sheltering operations to provide veterinary medical care to animals injured in the storm, which killed three people and left up to 30 injured.

The request for the team’s services was initiated by the veterinary medical community there through county officials as a result of the significant damage caused by the tornado, combined with the fact that most of the veterinary medical resources are around 20 miles from the impact area.

During severe storm situations, animals tend to go into hiding, are hesitant to reemerge, and tend to be fairly skittish when they do. It is common for the animal response to a disaster to be delayed as a result, and the degree of the problem usually only becomes apparent when communities begin clearing out debris, according to VET director Dr. Wesley Bissett.

Because of this, being able to place veterinary medical resources on site, closer to the impact area, is important in this situation, Bissett said.

“Certainly, this is a complicated time for everyone to deploy,” Bissett said, “but because of everything going on, providing for those animals is of the utmost importance.

“Our lives have gotten so complicated with COVID-19 and for this community to be hit with a tornado on top of everything else, they need things to be OK; they need that hope,” he said. “The thing we know from all of the team’s deployments is that putting animals and people back together provides that hope.

“It’s a challenging, trying time, but this is a community that I’m sure has been turned upside down,” he said. “We’re needed and we’re very committed to this mission because we know what it means.”

COVID-19 also complicates deployment for the VET; to mitigate potential issues, the VET will maintain a small footprint, will require members to wear face masks at all times, and will practice all of the precautions currently being practiced in Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where VET members have also been assisting with curbside admissions and discharge processes initiated because of the pandemic.

“We will continue to take all of the steps that we can in terms of personal protection to keep our people safe,” Bissett said. “We want to have enough there to support Polk County, but not too many so that we can do all of those things that are so important in keeping people safe.”

The team anticipates a short deployment of three to four days.



For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital Implements Changes to Protect Staff, Clients

4/21/2020 Texas A&M VMTH Curbside Admission, Discharge Update

COVID-19 Update, FAQs As VMTH Continues Operation During Shelter-In-Place

A sign pointing to the new temporary entrance for the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital, with a staff member helping a client in the backgrond
The temporary “drive-thru” entrance for the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital.

Story by Aubrey Bloom

The most important thing small animal clinical sciences department head Dr. Jonathan Levine wants people to know about the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital’s (VMTH) response to the COVID-19 pandemic is what hasn’t changed, and that’s the standard of care inside the hospital.

On the outside, however, people will notice some changes that have been implemented to protect both humans and animals.

The biggest changes are that the VMTH is currently accepting only emergent and urgent cases so that the hospital can direct resources to those animals most in need of medical care and that clients will no longer leave their cars during the admissions and discharge processes; to limit direct human-to-human contact and reduce the spread of germs, clients will drop off their animals.

“Our goals are to prioritize human health, our clients’ health, and our patients’ health, so the steps you’ll see us taking now, and in the future, really focus on that and on maintaining excellent patient care and student education,” Levine said.

The parking lot in front of the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) is closed, and all traffic should enter via Veterinary Way from Raymond Stotzer Parkway. Upon entering, a station has been set up where clients will be asked some basic screening questions and then will be instructed on where to proceed based on their answers.

A conversation between Dr. Wesley Bissett and Dr. Jonathan Levine
Dr. Wesley Bissett and Dr. Jonathan Levine discuss recent changes to VMTH procedures.

Inside the hospital, the biggest change is due, in part, to a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) like surgical masks for the hospital staff.

“We have shifted our operations a little bit in that we’re not seeing elective cases,” Levine said.  “We think that’s in the best interest of the public because of the emerging shortages of personal protective equipment. We think it’s in the best interest of our staff and the animals. So, we will see animals that have urgent and emergent healthcare needs.”

“We want to provide the very best standard of care, and that hasn’t changed at all,” he said. “So, the most critical patients, those that just can’t wait, we can provide outstanding service as we always have.”

The SAH is also expanding its use of VirtualVet, a telemedicine portal, for rechecks and other services to minimize trips to the hospital. For information on VirtualVet availability, clients can email virtualvets@cvm.tamu.edu or call 979-845-2351.

The SAH had assistance in quickly making the necessary changes from the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), which has extensive experience in rapid response situations.

“The VET’s done amazing things throughout the state, whether it’s wildfire response, chemical disasters, or hurricanes,” Levine said. “They are an amazing service arm of this college. What they’ve done for us here is helped us operationalize emergency plans for our hospital very quickly. A lot of this had to happen very quickly once we realized the full scale of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Dr. James Bilof directs a client in their car
VET member Dr. James Bilof assists a SAH client.

VET members are assisting with screening questions that are designed to identify not only the current status of the animal but also whether the owner is at risk of having been exposed to COVID-19.

According to VET director Dr. Wesley Bissett, anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should have someone they trust and who hasn’t been exposed bring their animal to the VMTH; however, the hospital is prepared to handle situations where that’s not possible.

Though at this point there has been no indication that animals are carriers of the disease, the VET is washing the animals of clients identified as higher risk to make sure they aren’t carrying the virus on their coats.

Above all, Bissett, like Levine, wants to assure the public that these changes have been implemented so that the VMTH can continue to provide the standard of care it’s known for.

“We haven’t had any COVID-19 diagnoses at the Small Animal Hospital,” Bissett said. “We aren’t doing this because we have a disease problem internally; that’s not what’s behind it. What’s behind it is we need to stay fully functional and healthy. That means we need our clinicians here and we need our staff here. Our best way for us to do that is to make sure that we don’t inadvertently introduce the virus into the large or small animal hospital.”

See more photos of the Small Animal Hospital “Drive-thru” here.


For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Bissett Testifies on Animals in Disasters Before House Subcommittee

Dr. Wesley Bissett during his testimonyDr. Wesley Bissett, director of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), recently testified on how disasters impact animals before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.

On Feb. 12, Bissett, who also serves as an associate professor of emergency management at the CVM, attended the “Animals in Disasters” hearing in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of caring for animals during and after natural and man-made disasters.

The hearing was called to discuss current federal efforts to care for animals in disasters and how those efforts can be improved to better promote animal welfare.

“All too often, disaster impacts on animals and their owners are seen as separate issues,” Bissett said during the hearing. “As you will hear from my testimony, they are one and the same and must be looked at in that manner.”

As Bissett and other members of the VET have seen firsthand, people often factor in their animals when making decisions during disaster situations. Some would rather risk their own lives than leave a pet behind.

“As the director of the Texas A&M VET, I’ve experienced how intertwined the human and animal condition is through our response to numerous disasters in Texas and the Camp Wildlife in Paradise, California,” Bissett said. “The highest priority—human health, wellbeing, and safety—can never be fully addressed without addressing the animal condition.”

He discussed the importance of the VET to Texas’ animals and the VET’s work in four domains—aid in local-level emergency planning, veterinary medical support in response to disasters, care for Texas Task Force and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) canines, and training of veterinary students in emergency response.

To watch a recording of the hearing and access a copy of Bissett’s full written testimony, visit https://transportation.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/animals-in-disasters.

Bissett was joined at the hearing by fellow witnesses Dr. R. Douglas Meckes, the North Carolina state veterinarian; Teresa MacPherson, a canine search specialist for Virginia Task Force 1; and Richard Patch, the vice president of federal affairs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, under the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is responsible for the authorization and oversight of programs addressing the federal management of emergencies and disasters, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

When to be Concerned about Coronavirus with Your Pet

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak has been at the front of many health professionals’ minds, especially with the World Health Organization’s recent declaration of the virus as a public health emergency of international concern.

a black cat lays next to a brown spanielAlthough the threat of the mutated 2019-nCoV strain should be taken seriously, veterinarians at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) discuss how this dangerous variant of coronavirus is different from strains that may infect your pet dog or cat.

Coronaviruses are fairly common and often mild infections in cats and dogs, contributing to illnesses such as Infectious Tracheobronchitis Complex (ITB), also known as kennel cough.

While there are also forms of coronavirus that can be more serious, and even life-threatening, for pets, Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the CVM, emphasizes that “the coronaviruses that infect animals do not infect humans unless the virus mutates—which is what 2019-nCoV did in the Wuhan, China region.”

However, Dr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the CVM, assures pet owners that “at this time, we do not believe humans can catch (any form of) coronavirus from their pet.”

In addition, veterinarians do not currently believe that pets are susceptible to the 2019-nCoV mutated virus.

“There is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to animals, or that animals are involved in current transmission of the disease to humans,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director for the CVM’s Veterinary Emergency Team. “The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention does recommend avoiding animals if traveling to China and to not handle pets or animals while sick.”

Since the more commonly encountered coronaviruses are species-specific, cats ill with a coronavirus are able to transmit that virus to other cats, but not to dogs. Similarly, dogs are able to pass canine coronavirus to other dogs, but not to cats.

For this reason, Zoran says it is best practice for owners introducing a new pet into their household to separate the new animal from their other pets until the new animal can be examined by a veterinarian, or until the owner is sure their new pet doesn’t have signs of ill health (which may be a week or more).

Cats infected with coronavirus may exhibit mild diarrhea, fevers, jaundice, fluid acclimation in the chest or abdomen, and weight loss, depending on which strain of the virus is present.

Dogs infected with a coronavirus may have either an intestinal or respiratory variant, Creevy says. Canine intestinal coronaviruses typically cause mild diarrhea and may resolve without veterinary intervention.

“Dogs infected with respiratory coronavirus alone, or with other ITB complex pathogens, typically show mild nasal discharge and coughing,” Creevy said. “In most cases, they will recover on their own with supportive care including rest, steam therapy to soothe their cough, and soft food that’s easier to swallow with a sore throat.”

As with all viral infections, there are antiviral drugs that can help slow the virus effects in the body, but clearing the infection requires the infected individual’s immune system to do the work.

Dog owners can protect their pet from disease by practicing good hygiene for their pets and themselves, including avoiding contact with areas that have feces from other dogs, and washing their hands after contact with dog feces. Pet dogs should be well-nourished, receiving the correct anti-parasite medications, and vaccinated against preventable infections.

“For cats, since there are no effective vaccines for either coronavirus, the best prevention is good health and hygiene practices, and especially litterbox cleanliness, as the virus is present in feces,” Zoran said. “Owners should clean their cat’s litterboxes daily and make sure they have enough litterboxes, at least one per cat to avoid over-crowding.”

When possible, owners should keep their pets away from other animals that are sick and should seek veterinary care if their illness does not resolve, worsens, or if they have concerns about their pet’s well-being.

Humans coming into contact with pets should take care to wash their hands, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency also recommends avoiding contact with other people who are sick and staying home if you feel unwell. For more information, visit the CDC website.

By keeping with their usual practice of good hygiene and staying up to date on official information surrounding outbreaks such as this one, pet owners have little to worry about in the case of the novel 2019-nCoV coronavirus strain behind the Wuhan outbreak.

“Dealing with emerging viruses is always difficult, because when a new virus emerges, we cannot predict its behavior,” Creevy said. “For instance, more Americans are currently infected with the flu and more Americans are at risk of death from flu than from 2019-nCoV.  But 2019-nCoV is capturing all the news attention because it is more unpredictable. It’s appropriate to pay attention to 2019-nCoV while we try to figure out what it does, but it’s also essential to keep preventing flu, which is far more likely to affect most Americans.

“Similarly, for pets, there is a possibility that 2019-nCoV has mutated in a way that it could affect pets, but that is unlikely,” she said. “It’s OK to be aware of that and pay attention to emerging news, but it’s even more important for owners to understand the things that we already know coronavirus can and does do.”

“The first, and most important, thing to remember is that most coronaviruses are very specific to the species they infect—meaning the cat coronaviruses don’t infect dogs or humans and vice versa,” Zoran said. “As with all viruses, a clean environment, healthy diet, and good husbandry is the best way to ensure that viruses don’t cause problems for you or your pet.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Hurricanes, Fires, & Tornadoes: How to Protect Your Pets During an Emergency

When faced with an emergency, everyone needs to know how to protect their family, their home, and, let’s not forget, their pets. Our furry friends rely on us to protect them, especially during times of disaster.

Two Veterinary Emergency Team members scan for a microchip in a black puppy.
Veterinary Emergency Team members scan a puppy to check for a microchip.

Dr. Wesley Bissett, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), advises pet owners to prepare in advance for an emergency situation to provide the best possible outcome, not only for your family, but also for your pets.

During times of disaster—be it a hurricane, wildfire, or tornado—people experience physical, economic, and psychological devastation. The loss of a pet can significantly add to that devastation.

As pet owners prepare for large-scale emergencies, it is critical to include their pets, both large and small, in their family emergency plan and especially for the possibility of evacuation.

“Monitor news channels and public information from governmental entities when risk is heightened,” Bissett said. “Obey evacuation orders and if possible, evacuate early.”

Evacuation is a common occurrence for those in the midst of a natural disaster, so, to prepare for evacuation, pet owners should “have kennels available that are appropriate for travel and make sure your animals are trained to spend time in them,” Bissett said.

Bissett also recommends training pets to come on command and to have leashes and other equipment easily accessible. Pets trained to travel will be less stressed in the event of an emergency evacuation.

If you and your pet are separated, having them microchipped and the information appropriately registered can help ensure their safe return. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says that microchipped pets are returned to their owners about 52 percent of the time, whereas pets without microchips are returned about 21 percent of the time.

“In addition to being microchipped, owners should make sure to complete the microchip registration process. There are so many animals that are chipped but not registered,” Bissett said. “Also make sure your animals are current on vaccinations.”

Not only should homeowners keep an emergency kit for themselves in the event that evacuation is necessary, but Bissett says pet owners should prepare a kit for their pets, too. He recommends the following items for your pet kit:

    • Five to seven days’ worth of food
    • Three to five days’ worth of water
    • Two-week supply of your pet’s medications
    • Kennel or crate
    • Favorite toy
    • Favorite bed
    • Coggins papers (for horses)
    • Health summary from your local veterinarian

Sudden changes in a pet’s environment can cause them to be anxious and exhibit changes in behavior. It may take some time for pets to adjust to the changes in their environment, but having a plan in place as well as familiar items can help in the transition.

“Recognize that your pets will be just as stressed as you are, so try and provide quiet, stress-free situations for them,” Bissett said. “Pets may react differently for a period of time, so take things slow and allow them to adjust to their new normal.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.