Vet Telemedicine: What You Need To Know About Virtual Vet Appointments

Aly Walansky

April 29, 2020

4 min read

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 their pet’s veterinarian 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 a veterinarian can do without being in the same room (physically, at least) as your pet. “Based on the history, discussion, and visualization of the pet and its environment, the veterinarian can work with the pet owner to put together a care plan, which may involve calling in medications to a local pharmacy or ordering medications online for the pet, if that is what is warranted,” says Dr. Brooks.

Of course, sometimes “real” visits will still be necessary. If the veterinarian feels the pet is better managed in a hospital, such as if they are very sick, they can tell the pet owner that determination and recommend the pet owner take the pet into an emergency clinic.

vet telemedicine pawp

When Is Vet Telemedicine Right For Your Pet?

These types of 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.

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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. “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. Telemedicine vets can recommend a stool test for normal stools (once or twice per year for wellness screening) or for abnormal stools (soft, loose, bloody, etc.), have the pet owner collect and mail the sample, and then help the pet owner interpret the test results.

With 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.

When Should You Bring Your Pet For An In-Person Visit?

With urgent and severe health issues or injuries, an in-person 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.

vet in Telehealth Concept

How To Prepare For Your Telemedicine Appointment

  • Have a list of all the concerns and questions you have for your 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, a new mail-in health-testing service for cats and dogs launching in May.
  • Some virtual 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 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 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 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.

The days of real office visits with doctors will become commonplace again soon. But, telemedicine is so easy to use and convenient, it may stay a good option for more routine questions and visits for a long time to come!

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