These days, your pet can get medical help without leaving home—but first you need to understand the difference between telemedicine and teletriage.
NO MATTER WHAT kind of pet you have—cat, dog, horse, or hamster—veterinary telemedicine services are a great way to potentially diagnose and deal with problems that don’t warrant an emergency visit to your local vet. The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders have made these teleservices all the more vital.
With veterinary telemedicine, you talk to a vet over text, phone, or via video chat to get real-time advice on what you should do for your pet. It’s not a replacement for regular in-office visits, and most vets on telemedicine services can’t diagnose or prescribe medications for pets they haven’t previously seen in person, but they are able to give helpful advice. We tried a number of these services to see how they work—here’s what we recommend.
If you’ve postponed a visit because of the pandemic, call your vet. It’s likely their clinic is open (if it ever closed). You’ll just have to follow special rules so they can see your pet, like waiting outside the clinic rather than inside and wearing a face mask. Be sure to check out our other pet guides, like the Best Gear for Newly-Adopted Pups and Kittens, Best Pet Cameras, and the Best Dog Tech Accessories.
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Telemedicine vs. Teletriaging
Before we take a look at these services, it’s important to know the distinction between telemedicine (sometimes called televet) and teletriage, which is what a majority of the apps highlighted below specialize in.
A vet client-patient relationship (VCPR) is required for a vet to diagnose and prescribe medication, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That means a vet must have seen an animal in person first, usually within a certain number of months.
Because of this, your current veterinarian needs to be a part of an app’s network for you to see them. Not all vet offices have made the jump to telemedicine, but fortunately, there’s still a lot that can be done if your vet isn’t available. A teletriage service can help you make the decision on whether or not a midnight run to an emergency animal hospital is necessary, or whether it can wait until the morning.
« You can’t prescribe, treat, and diagnose, but you can triage, support, provide guidance and general advice, » says Brandon Werber, CEO and founder of AirVet. « That’s really what people need 99 percent of the time at 11 pm when their vet is closed and their dog is puking. »
Triaging, or dictating a patient’s treatment based on the severity of their condition, can also get you answers to the general questions that come along with pet ownership, or things you usually might just Google—Should I bathe my cat? Is that food my dog stole going to make him sick? What’s normal litter box behavior? »
Laura Berg, vice president of business development at Ask.Vet, says that while her team frequently fields medical questions, they also get (and happily answer) less pressing questions, like how to figure out the size of dog clothing. « We provide the ability for a pet owner to ask a question they might think is dumb but they still want advice on, » she says.
Several experts I spoke to say cats rarely, and in some cases never, get veterinary care because of how hard it can be to put a cat in a carrier and how stressful the experience can be on them. Cats still need to go to the vet, no matter how much of a struggle it is, but telemedicine opens up a world for cat owners to show a veterinarian what’s going on when they’re in their own home.
« Pet owners want more and more information about their pet when they’re at home, » says Jeannine Taaffe, head of digital health at Kinship, a company that focuses on using emerging technologies to improve the pet care space. « At-home diagnostics will be transformational for cats. Because they’re so stressed out at the vet, their blood work and urine levels can be inaccurate. Vets don’t always have an accurate baseline. It’s really challenging. »
Our Favorite Services
If your pet’s vet is a part of one of these networks, you’ll be able to chat directly with them during the times they’re available. Usually, that’s outside of standard office hours, but each clinic varies. Because the vet knows your pet already, they’re able to use this platform for diagnosing and prescribing medications if necessary, or they might ask you to bring them to the office for a follow-up.
But if your vet isn’t on any of these apps, ask them if telemedicine is something they use or are considering. Also, check out the other options we have below that will still connect you to licensed veterinarians for advice.
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