As social distancing and self-isolation have forced people across the world indoors, many doctors have embraced virtual appointments, or telemedicine, as a way to have visits with their patients at a distance — and veterinarians are no exception. Telemedicine for pets involves the pet owner having a virtual appointment with an online vet on a computer, iPad, or other device.
“The pet owner can talk with the veterinarian about their concerns regarding their pet,” explains Leslie Brooks, DVM, veterinarian advisor for betterpet.
There’s a lot that an online vet can do without being in the same room (physically, at least) as your pet. They can answer any general question you have about your cat or dog's nutritional needs, allergies, parasite control, etc. Online vets also serve as a 24/7 first line of defense when you're worried your pet is having an emergency.
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Of course, sometimes in-person visits will still be necessary. If the online vet feels the pet needs emergency assistance, they will direct them to the nearest vet clinic.
Online vet visits are great for general pet advice from nutrition to some types of behavior challenges. “They are useful to help answer patient-specific medical questions or get healthcare advice,” says Dennis Chmiel, co-founder and CEO of ClueJay.
Also, being able to connect with a vet virtually can get pet owners answers to questions quickly, such as, My dog just had diarrhea. What should I do? “The virtual vet can ask questions to learn more and give advice, such as to give an over-the-counter medicine, or feed a bland diet and watch for X, Y, and Z clinical signs,” adds Chmiel.
Most importantly, they can help an owner assess if the situation requires a vet visit immediately, if it can wait until the next day, or if it's not needed at all. Emergency clinics can charge upwards of $150 even if it's a false alarm. Talking to an online vet beforehand can save you a trip and a fair amount of money.
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“Telehealth can also be valuable for follow-up advice after a surgical procedure or rechecking a health condition that doesn’t require another physical exam,” says Chmiel.
That's why there's an increasing amount of veterinary lab tests from home. These are professional tests that pet owners can directly access online, in-store or through local pet service providers without a vet visit or prescription. “They purchase the test kit, collect the sample, and mail it to the lab for online results,” says Chmiel.
With virtual vet telemedicine, the idea is your vet can visualize your pet and talk with you about what is going on. “In this particular instance, they can even see inside the area where your pet lives, which can sometimes provide insight into what may be going on with your pet,” adds Brooks. You can also easily show your vet the bag of food your pet eats, and other things that you may forget to take into the clinic for an appointment.
With urgent and severe health issues or injuries, an in-person vet visit at the office may still be necessary. "Your vet cannot do a physical exam on your pet virtually, which means it's not the best way for an appointment, especially if it is important that the vet listen to your pet's heart and lungs," explains Dr. Brooks.
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Have a list of all the concerns and questions you have for your online vet regarding your pet so you don't forget anything.
Have your pet's medical information readily accessible. “It’s best to have present the family member who knows the pet’s everyday behaviors the best,” says Chmiel.
Some online vet care platforms allow the sharing of pictures and short videos, so have a smartphone with a camera available. “Sometimes a 15-second video can spare a lot of back-and-forth typing, or sharing an image of the lab work can really help the vet provide the right advice,” adds Chmiel. Keep in mind that the online vet doesn’t have the benefit of doing a physical exam, or taking some basic measurements like heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature, so it’s your eyes, ears, and hands that are providing the vet with the most accurate information you can.
Be prepared to show your pet to the online vet. “Try to keep your pet in an easily accessible area where you can have them on the screen for the vet to see,” says Dr. Brooks. You may even need to move your camera to visualize a specific spot on your pet.
Also be prepared to show your online vet "the environment in which your pet lives, the appearance of their stool and urine, or anything else that may be important," adds Dr. Brooks. Make sure you have a good, consistent internet connection, camera, and audio availability.
While there will always be a place for traditional appointments, online vet telemedicine is so easy to use and convenient, it will stay a good option for more routine questions and visits for a long time to come!