The rise of digital tools is changing the way we approach pet healthcare. You might be hearing of the terms ‘telemedicine’ and ‘online vet’ more frequently, but what exactly do they mean? How are they changing the ways we care for our pets?
In this article we will talk about:
- What is telemedicine for pets?
- Types of online vets available
- 5 reasons why you should use an online vet
- Limitations of an online vet
- What does the future for pet healthcare look like?
What is telemedicine for pets?
Broadly speaking, veterinary telemedicine refers to healthcare services provided to pets virtually. This means that vets can provide advice to you without seeing your pet in person, from the comfort of your own home. Although this might sound like an implausible concept, vet telemedicine has been increasingly popular and accessible over the past few years.
The coronavirus outbreak in 2020 also greatly propelled the growth of veterinary telemedicine. More of us have been staying at home more often than ever before. Hence, pet owners have been interested in being able to see their vet or get advice on their pet’s health remotely. Vets have likewise been adapting to changing lifestyles and starting to provide more online services.
Types of online vets available
There are 3 types of online vet services provided currently - online forums and content, online symptom checkers and phone/video consultations:
- Online forums and content
As with any topic imaginable, Dr Google never fails to deliver a myriad of information with just a simple search. We often turn to online content for advice to educate ourselves on our pets’ problems and search for ways in which we can help them feel better quickly.
However, advice can be fraught with risk as anyone with access to the internet can publish veterinary content. This is not to say that all online content cannot be trusted! It is critical to ensure that the site you use is credible and has been overseen by vets or animal health professionals.
- Online symptom checkers
If you have ever been in a situation where your dog is slightly off colour and you have found yourself on Google frantically searching ‘Does my dog need to go to the vet?’ or ‘When to go to the emergency vet?’ – online symptom checkers are for you.
Symptoms checkers provide free, immediate, 24/7 support for you through an online website or mobile application. Typically, it would ask you a series of questions to help you determine if making an urgent trip down to the vet is necessary.
Our qualified vets here at Felcana have developed a trusty cat and dog Symptom Checker. It aims to help pet owners like yourself gauge how serious your pet’s situation might be, and what next steps you should take. We understand the anxiety that comes with seeing your beloved pet not being fine within themselves and the uncertainty of what to do next. This service is free to use for anyone and is available for you at any time of day!
- Phone/video consultations
This form of telemedicine allows you to talk to a vet online over a voice or video call, in real time. The option for a text chat style consultation is sometimes also available.
Generally, how this works is: Find a suitable platform, book an appointment with a veterinarian, and then connect with them through the internet for the consultation.
If not through a specific platform, your usual brick-and-mortar vet practice might also have started doing over the phone consultations. There is then the added advantage of speaking to a vet that already knows you and your pet well, and has access to your pet’s prior medical history. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, it is worth ringing up your vet to ask if they provide phone consultations.
Online consults with a vet usually range in price from £20-£40, depending on the urgency of the appointment. Your pet health insurance provider might also offer such services at a discounted rate.
5 reasons why you should use an online vet
A vet appointment would traditionally require you to make your way down to the clinic to see your vet in person. Think of your virtual veterinarian as a mobile vet. Seeing an online vet eliminates all the hassle that comes with transport – the distance, additional time taken back and forth, and more. You could roll out of bed in your pyjamas in the morning, and still make it for your appointment next thing with the vet, as long as you have your phone with you!
Online vets are also frequently available out of hours. If you have a question about your pet in the middle of the night, using an online Symptom Checker or a quick voice chat with a licensed vet can help give you a peace of mind.
- Minimise stress
A visit to the vet can be an extremely stressful experience for some pets and owners. This makes using an online vet especially great for anxious dogs and cats who become frazzled in unfamiliar environments, such as during a physical vet visit or on public transportation.
Currently about one in three cat owners miss vet visits due to 'feline resistance', and this service can ensure these pets don't miss out on their health checks. It is also ideal for pets, especially dogs, that experience car sickness.
Additionally, if your dog has chronic issues with mobility, it might be easier to do follow-up appointments with your vet through video call.
Online vet consultations are always provided by licensed veterinarians. Our Symptom Checker is also developed by veterinarians, so you can be rest assured that the information is trustworthy.
We all know the feeling of being stuck in a Google wormhole and being bombarded by information overload. It can be difficult to know what out there is relevant or reliable, sometimes you could end up feeling even more worried after searching about your pet’s symptoms.
Thanks to digital technology, with the click of a button, you can easily be connected to a qualified vet who you can speak to and have all your concerns answered.
Online Symptom Checkers are simple to use and provide 24 hour free vet advice. They can always be easily accessible using a mobile phone, laptop, or whichever device you have on hand that has internet connectivity.
Limitations of an online vet
Before we begin to think it might be time to bid physical vet clinics farewell, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of online vet services. Despite the huge range of pet healthcare services that are available online, they do not replace the need for a physical vet.
Not for serious emergencies
Online vet chats are great for doing a quick triage of your pet and helping to signpost your next step, such as deciding whether an urgent vet appointment is necessary or not.
However, in serious pet emergencies, please bring your pet directly to a physical veterinary practice. Some signs that immediate care is required may include:
- Breathing difficulties (e.g. open mouth breathing in cats)
- Inability to urinate
- Severe bleeding
- Severe trauma or injury
- Swollen abdomen
- Exposure to toxins
- Not able to provide a definitive diagnosis or prescriptions for veterinary medicines
Your vet can give you an idea of what might be going on with your pet through a video consultation. However, it is not possible to provide a definitive diagnosis or any prescriptions or medication via video consult, without doing a physical examination of your pet in person in the UK.
The good thing is that many non-urgent problems may not necessarily require a prescription – so you can still get a lot out from your virtual veterinarian!
- Further testing might be required
In some situations, further diagnostic testing such as a blood test may be necessary. If this is the case, you would have to bring your pet to see a vet in person who will be able to carry these tests out for you. This will also be the case if your pet requires a surgery.
- Vaccinations are important
You will be able to get lots of advice on how to keep your pet fit and healthy through online telemedicine – but be sure to keep your pets up to date with their yearly check-ups and vaccinations with your regular vet in person!
What does the future of pet healthcare look like?
Vet telemedicine brings forward a quick and affordable option for more pet owners to have access to quality pet healthcare. In a few years, it would be no surprise to see veterinary telemedicine become the first port of call for many pet owners when they need pet advice.
But how will veterinary healthcare continue adapting to an increasing digitalized world? Perhaps soon, your cat’s full health records will be easily accessible on your smartphone. Or, your dog’s wearable health monitor will link up directly with your telemedicine provider to help identify disease early and provide pet owners with appropriate advice in real time.
With how fast technology is advancing, we are excited to see what the future holds, and how the well-being of our furry friends can be enhanced.
If this article has piqued your curiousity about how telemedicine can benefit your pet, why not give Felcana’s free Symptom Checker a try? Developed by vets with you and your pet in mind, it might change the way you approach your pet’s health and help them lead happier and healthier lives.
What do you think about vet telemedicine? Have you used any online vet services before? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section down below – we would love to hear them!