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Veterinary telemedicine: all your questions answered


What is telemedicine for pets?

The world of veterinary telemedicine has grown rapidly in recent years, especially since the pandemic. Veterinary telemedicine provides an accessible and convenient way for pet owners to seek veterinary advice, especially for non-urgent situations or when in-person visits are challenging.

Veterinary telemedicine connects pet owners with veterinarians via call, video chat, or text to discuss their pet’s health concerns. Your dog helped himself to a slice of pizza and you’re worried about tummy troubles? Your cat just started sneezing and you’re not sure what to do? Veterinary telemedicine can help!

Veterinary telemedicine can be helpful for many things, but it has its limitations. Not all conditions can be diagnosed or treated through a virtual visit. It’s important for pet owners to have realistic expectations of what telemedicine can and cannot do.

What health conditions can veterinary telemedicine help with?

Veterinary telemedicine can be utilized in many ways, here are some of the most common:

  • Triage: Veterinary telemedicine can be a great triage tool when you have concerns about your pet but aren’t sure if they warrant a trip to the vet. A telemedicine vet can help assess your pet’s symptoms and advise on the next steps.
  • Pet health advice: Pet owners can seek advice on things like nutrition, lifestyle, preventative care tips, general health questions, and much more through telehealth vet visits.
  • Minor injuries and illnesses: Veterinary telemedicine can help with minor issues like allergies, skin problems, ear infections, minor wounds, and gastrointestinal symptoms. In states that allow them to do so, veterinarians can provide guidance on home care or advise what symptoms to look for and when to seek in-person care. 
  • Managing chronic conditions: Veterinary telemedicine can assist in managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, and others. Where allowed, veterinarians can provide treatment plans, discuss medication adjustments, and monitor your pet's progress through a telehealth vet appointment. This type of telemedicine is typically only used when your pet is already under care for their condition and has had a recent exam with their provider.
  • Medication refills: Veterinary telemedicine consultations can sometimes be used to refill prescriptions, discuss potential side effects, or adjust dosages for pets that are on long-term medications. This type of telemedicine will likely be done by your primary care veterinarian or a specialist that your pet is under the care of. While you can contact a 3rd party veterinary telehealth service for general questions about your pet’s medications, they may not be able to refill prescriptions, depending on where you live.
  • Behavioral problems: Veterinary behavioral consultations can sometimes be held via telemedicine appointment to address problems like anxiety and aggression. Veterinarians can assess some of the behaviors through video and provide behavior modification techniques, recommend lifestyle changes, or suggest appropriate supplements or medications.
  • Postoperative care: Pets recovering at home from surgery can sometimes benefit from telemedicine for postoperative care. Discussing progress, monitoring symptoms, and observing how incisions are healing (through photos or videos) may all potentially be done through telemedicine (if your pet is a good candidate and your vet is able to provide this service).
  • Hospice care: Veterinary telemedicine can offer hospice care options as well as guidance and support through this difficult time. Veterinarians can help assess the patient’s quality of life, provide supportive care recommendations, and discuss end-of-life preparations. 

Can a telehealth vet prescribe medications?

In order to prescribe your pet medications or authorize refills, the attending veterinarian must have an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship or VCPR. The standard for maintaining a VCPR is the veterinarian must have examined the patient within one year.

If the veterinarian providing your telehealth service is your primary care vet and they have examined your pet within one year, they will be able to prescribe medication if they are satisfied that the virtual visit has allowed them to adequately evaluate your pet. However, if your telehealth vet has never examined your pet in person, your local regulations may not allow them to prescribe anything. They may make general health recommendations and suggest measures you can take to make your pet more comfortable.

With that being said, legal requirements can vary by state, and new technologies that enhance the quality of telemedicine are being introduced all the time. From home telemetry and other wearables to enhanced communication platforms, more veterinarians are expanding into telemedicine when it’s appropriate. Pet owners interested in telemedicine vet visits will want to keep an eye on this evolving landscape.

What conditions can’t veterinary telemedicine treat?

As helpful as veterinary telemedicine can be, it’s never a substitute for regular veterinary check-ups which are crucial to your pet’s health. Your pet still needs to see a veterinarian for routine care including physical exams, vaccinations, parasite screenings, and more.

Veterinary telemedicine is also not appropriate for life-threatening emergencies. When minutes matter, put down the telehealth app and go straight to the emergency vet.

Pet emergencies that require immediate care:

  • Trauma/hit-by-car
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations/open wounds
  • Pale gums
  • Sudden loss of mobility or collapse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Heatstroke
  • Toxic ingestions
  • Exposure to fire, burns, or smoke inhalation
  • Severe allergic reactions (facial swelling/trouble breathing)
  • Swallowed a foreign object
  • Abdominal pain and/or unproductive retching (signs of GDV/bloat in dogs)
  • Trouble urinating (especially in male cats)
  • Signs of severe pain

Where to find a telehealth vet?

You can connect with a telehealth veterinarian in various ways online but the best place to start is with your own vet. Ask your veterinarian if they provide any pet telemedicine services or if they have any specific apps they recommend.

There’s no shortage of pet telehealth services that you can quickly access from your computer or smartphone. Some services will charge per consultation while others offer a subscription-based model.

If you are a 24Petwatch Lifetime Protection member, you won’t have to scramble to find a telehealth provider. You’ll have instant access to veterinary telehealth services to answer questions via phone, email, or live chat 24/7, powered by whiskerDocs.

How to get the most out of your telehealth vet appointment

When navigating the world of pet telehealth, it’s important to be prepared. Keep a copy of your pet’s medical records and a list of any medications they are on for the telehealth vet to review. In order to provide the best medical advice, your telehealth vet will need as much background information on your pet as possible.

Just as they would during an in-person exam, your telehealth vet will also ask about your pet’s lifestyle. This may include their eating and bathroom habits, activity level, recent travels, contact with other animals, and other questions. If you are not the main caretaker for your pet, be sure to gather that information ahead of time from the person who is.

If the health concern you are inquiring about involves your pet’s eyes, ears, skin, or any lumps, bumps, or masses, try to get some clear photos of the affected area. If your pet is coughing or vocalizing in a strange way, a video may be helpful.

After your veterinary telehealth appointment, be sure to forward any pertinent information to your pet’s primary care veterinarian so they are kept in the loop.

Final tips on navigating the world of pet telemedicine

This wonderful new world of veterinary telemedicine can be a lifeline for many pets and their owners. The most important thing is just knowing how and when to use it! Telemedicine can be a great tool for triage, addressing minor health conditions, or answering general pet health questions, but it’s no substitute for in-person veterinary care.

Wondering about telemedicine for your pet? Rest assured you’ll always have access to 24/7 veterinary telehealth services with a 24Petwatch Lifetime Protection Membership. You can call, email, text, or chat with a veterinary professional anytime, day or night, to address any questions or concerns about your pet’s health.

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The information provided and contained herein are the opinions of Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. which are based on external publication. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss, claims or damages arising out of the within content.

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