Virtual Care for Pets 101: What to Know Before You Call

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Learn the basics of how virtual care for pets works and what to know before calling.

Technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives, including the way we care for our pets. Tasks such as ordering kibble online, checking in on our furry friends at home via a pet monitor, or scheduling a dog walker are all made easier with technology. Not surprisingly, virtual medical care is not only being used to treat people, but is also being used to treat animals. Pet care professionals are jumping on the “bandwidth wagon” and are increasingly using technology as a tool in the treatment and care of pets.  

WHAT IS VIRTUAL CARE, AND HOW CAN IT BE USED FOR YOUR PETS? 

Virtual care is the broad term used for any health care provider that uses some type of technology to interact with patients and render care. Unlike humans, most cats and dogs can’t text the vet when feeling under the weather. But more and more pet owners are recognizing the convenience of using technology when seeking medical treatment for pets. For example, a pet parent could have a video chat with a veterinarian and use the camera to show the condition of the pet. This is particularly helpful in an emergency or when an older pet is less mobile.  

Virtual care is not necessarily a substitution for an actual visit to the veterinarian, but can be convenient for a preliminary examination or follow-up. Also, there are state and federal regulations that require a VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient-relationship) before prescribing medication or rendering medical care. While there is an exception for emergency medical care for pets, the VCPR is an important safeguard to ensure your pet’s safety. Because of these safeguards, most states will require an in-person examination before medical services can be rendered. Once there is a VCPR, your pet care professional can explain the options available through virtual care. Make sure that you are comfortable with virtual care and that type of interaction. You should also be comfortable and aware of the technology required to use virtual care. The option to use virtual care is an important factor you should consider when choosing a pet care provider, so be sure to ask any questions you may have.  

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BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL CARE FOR PETS 

There are several benefits of virtual care for your pet, but with most decisions regarding your furry best friend, you must consider your pet’s personality, likes and dislikes, as well as age, temperament and how stressful a visit to the vet can be. For fearful pets and their pet parents, virtual care can be an excellent option. Scenarios like postsurgical care, general wellness advice, after-hours care, or hospice care are potentially well suited for using virtual pet care.1 A veterinarian who uses virtual care can monitor your pet’s progress in between visits, and an on-line consultation can certainly create less stress for you and your pet.  

Another benefit of virtual care is convenience. Originally, providing medical care via technology was necessary due to distance or other factors such as weather or lack of transportation. In addition to saving a drive to the vet, virtual care for pets can be obtained 24 hours a day, seven days a week if an emergency arises. Also, virtual care allows a pet care provider to easily check in on a pet post-surgery or monitor an on-going condition with a simple video call. Moreover, your pet will be more relaxed and comfortable at home which can provide a more accurate picture of your pet’s condition.  

Interestingly, one goal of pet care providers is to discourage pet owners from searching the internet and self-diagnosing or treating their pet. This often leads to a false diagnosis, incorrect treatment or a delay in seeking proper medical attention that can result in death.2 In some cases, your pet care professional may be able to make a diagnosis without an in person visit. If a diagnosis is not possible via virtual care, you must bring your pet in for an examination. Finally, virtual care can be less expensive than an actual visit to the vet, however, they do require your veterinarian’s time so you should be prepared to receive a regular exam fee. 

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Of course, not everyone is comfortable or confident with the use of technology. Virtual care can be an excellent option for your family if the services your pet needs can be properly rendered by virtual care. Explore and learn about virtual care in order to decide if it is a good option for you and your pet.  

OTHER TYPES OF VIRTUAL PET CARE 

The internet is literally raining cats and dogs with pet-related sites, including various apps, websites and videos offering tips and advice on every aspect of pet care. Only specific services, however, fall under the umbrella of virtual pet care. While the terms may be confusing, your pet care professional should be clear with the services being provided and clearly explain the terms. For example, telehealth is the term used for the use of technology for providing general pet care remotely, as well as education and information. An example of telehealth would be a veterinarian’s website that offers health tips.  

Telemedicine refers to the actual virtual care treatment of your pet by a veterinarian pursuant to a VCPR. For example, you have a video call to show the vet a rash on your dog’s paw. Your vet may or may not be able to diagnose the condition and provide telemedicine remotely. Remember that telemedicine is merely one aspect of comprehensive pet care, and not always a substitute for actual in-person appointments.  

Virtual care can be a great option for many pets, particularly older pets or pets (and pet parents) who experience anxiety when visiting the vet. Pet care providers that provide virtual care options should discuss the specific services that can be provided remotely and allow you to decide if virtual care is a good choice for you and your pet.  

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Pets Best policy holders can receive free decision support from a veterinary expert without a veterinary-client-patient-relationship by accessing the 24 Hour Vet Hotline included with their pet insurance policy. From questions about caring for a pet, to help deciding what to do in an emergency, or how best to care for a pet after surgery or another treatment, to questions about your pets behavior, pet parents can receive answers via phone, live chat, or email.

Sources

1 The Real-Life Rewards of Virtual Care: How to Turn Your Hospital into a Digitally Connected Practice with Telehealth [Online Guide], Retrieved April 3, 2020, from https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/Telehealth-Virtual-Care-Brochure.pdf

2 Vets Warn Pet Owners Over Online Diagnoses [Online Article], Retrieved April 3, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/11038657/Vets-warn-pet-owners-over-online-diagnoses.html 

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