Online Veterinary Care: What Every Pet Owner Should Know

This post was written by the VetVet team for our Leap Venture Studio & Academy blog. VetVet helps new pet parents discover incredible veterinarians based on what is most important to them. Whether it’s location, affordability, experience, languages spoken, or other factors, we believe anyone can find a vet they’ll love on VetVet.

These days, it seems like everything is moving online. Many of us are afraid to venture out of our homes in an age of social distancing unless necessary. However, even in ordinary times, it can seem advantageous to reach for your smartphone or computer and get what you need quickly. As part of this trend, telehealth and telemedicine are becoming more popular for humans and pets alike.

These services are fantastic in some situations, but not so great in others. No matter what you do, your pet needs to maintain a relationship with a local vet. But online vets can be extremely useful too. Here are the situations that lend themselves to online vets (and where they should be avoided).

What online vets are best for

Although being seen by a vet is often the ideal solution for your pet, there are a few situations where online vets can be a godsend.

Deciding if a pet needs to be seen in person

There are some situations where it’s always necessary to see a vet, such as if your dog is moaning in pain or experiencing heavy bleeding. Medical emergencies always call for an in-person visit, even in the worst of conditions. However, in other cases, the need to be seen is less obvious.

Let’s say, for example, that you have a new puppy. Puppies get into a lot of things, and it often results in an upset stomach. If your dog eats people food and then shows signs of nausea, using an online vet can work well. They’ll tell you if the pet ate something which can hurt him or if it’s OK to let the bellyache resolve itself.

Providing general professional advice

Especially with a new pet, there are situations where behavior problems can be challenging to resolve. Online vets can also help in this situation. For instance, if a puppy keeps having “accidents” in the house after a reasonable effort at housebreaking, the owner may want some advice. Trying an online vet’s suggestion can often resolve the issue with no office visit required.

Helping when your regular vet isn’t available immediately

Sometimes vets are slow at getting back to clients. They might be in surgery, or dealing with someone else’s medical emergency. Or, you might feel bad about calling your vet in the middle of the night and have it be a false alarm. If you’re worried that Fido may need to see someone asap, an online vet can advise right away. And since they’re on duty, you won’t be waking them up.

Providing care when you can’t travel

There may be reasons why visiting a vet would be unsafe. For example, bad weather can make driving to a vet’s office hazardous. In these situations, although you may prefer to see an in-person vet, an online vet may be the wiser choice.

Online vets are less appropriate in these situations

Pet parents might prefer to see a vet in person for a variety of reasons, and veterinary telehealth has some significant limits. Some are related to federal and state laws, while others come from practical concerns. Here are the times you should avoid an online vet.

When the pet owner isn’t comfortable with technology

While people are getting a lot more comfortable with technology these days, not everyone is enthusiastic about using it. Technology use requires a mobile device and computer, but some people struggle with the equipment. Or, there can be problems with the internet in a particular location. If a pet owner isn’t able to access a computer or the internet, a phone consult and in-person treatment may be necessary.

When your pet needs prescription medications

In most situations, federal and state regulations prohibit online veterinarians from prescribing medication. This regulation is a safeguard that helps ensure your pet isn’t injured by an incorrect prescription. The exception is when the provider has seen your pet recently in person. Also, keep in mind that most medications would require a run to the vet or pharmacy, or waiting for an online order.

If your pet clearly is having a medical emergency

While there are times that an online vet can distinguish between an emergency and a minor issue, in some situations, it’s clear your pet is having a crisis. If your pet is injured or experiencing an emergency, it is best to immediately get the animal to a vet right away. You can call your regular vet for an emergency appointment or rush to an emergency vet. Either way, time is of the essence.

When you (or your pet) need that face-to-face interaction

Most pet owners consider their animals to be four-legged children. To that end, owners can feel the need to have the pet seen in person. Having a vet examine your buddy and confirm that he’s OK can be priceless. At the same time, if treatment is necessary, having it provided simultaneously saves time. Either way, seeing an in-person vet may provide the best results.

Other things to know about online vets

Since there are advantages and disadvantages to using an online vet, other considerations can help you make the right choice. Sometimes the disadvantages of using an online vet are offset by secondary considerations.

Using an online vet can save money…sometimes

Online vet fees are often cost-effective. You can avoid paying an emergency vet fee when it isn’t necessary. On the other hand, if the online vet tells you to seek emergency help, then you’ll end up paying both the online vet and an emergency one.

If you need an in-person vet, online ones can give a referral

Most online vets can refer into your community for hands-on treatment. This referral can be valuable if you are new in town, are a first-time pet owner, or can’t access your regular vet for some reason. The online vet will know which vets are open after hours, as well.

Peace of mind is available even at midnight

If your pet doesn’t need hands-on help, you can feel better about him or her sooner. If you can’t reach your regular vet after hours, the online vet can help you avoid an unnecessary emergency vet run.

Deciding whether or not to use an online vet can sometimes be challenging. In some situations, this is a great option. On the other hand, an online vet can simply delay your pet’s hands-on treatment when misused. Either way, an online vet will never be a complete replacement for your pet’s local, in-person vet.

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/online-vet-coronavirus/

https://thelistwire.usatoday.com/lists/how-an-online-vet-benefits-your-pet-you-and-your-vet/

https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/getting-pet-health-information-online

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