Since it works for humans, now telehealth services for pets is growing, too

Photo:Andrew S/Unsplash
by Kim Salerno

Wake Forest - Telehealth isn't just for people anymore. Virtual health consultations are now available for pets, and it's a promising prospect.

Pets are a treasured part of life, and have grown in both numbers and in status in recent years. Pet ownership has increased by 20 percent since 1988. As of 2022, there are 393.3 million pets in the United States. Nearly seven out of 10 American households have at least one pet, and 95 percent of pet owners think of their pets as part of the family.

We wanted to create a solution that allows veterinarians to support that bond in the best way possible, while achieving the best possible outcomes for pets.

Higher pet ownership and an increase in regard for pet comfort and care have naturally increased the demand for veterinary care. This has led to challenges for pet parents when it comes to accessing quality, convenient care and timely health advice. Telehealth offers a promising solution for the gaps in the current veterinary industry.

Dr. "Scott" Swetnam strongly believes in the benefits of telehealth for pets. A veterinarian with decades of experience treating patients and leading veterinary teams, Dr. Scott created Pet Vet Hotline, a membership based service that provides pet parents affordable, unlimited, convenient and immediate access to experienced licensed veterinarians 24/7 via video or chat.

"We love animals and the human animal bond," he notes. "We wanted to create a solution that allows veterinarians to support that bond in the best way possible, while achieving the best possible outcomes for pets."

Telehealth can help meet these goals in several different ways.

Provides access to care, anytime

Through virtual care, vets can provide pet parents with general health consultations, behavioral advice, nutritional information, education on administering basic care, and advice about whether and when medical attention is required – all at their own convenience, in the comfort of their own home. The service helps to bridge the "gaps" of veterinary care – those times when a new symptom has appeared or an incident has occurred, and a caregiver doesn't know what the next steps should be.

A pet parent's ability to access this kind of professional advice whenever necessary, at a time that's convenient for them, in a place their pet feels comfortable and safe, is an obvious benefit of virtual veterinary care. Additionally, the ability to seek the advice of veterinarians beyond a pet parent's local pool of resources allows for easier access to more expertise, with no extra time or effort.

Saves both time and money

When health issues come up, even minor ones, pet parents commonly bring their pets in for a vet visit just to be on the safe side. Having a licensed, professional veterinarian "on call" to listen to concerns, answer basic health questions,suggest some initial at-home treatments, and help determine the seriousness of any given illness or injury could change everything in terms of time and money spent on vet visits.

"It becomes a question of whether to take action or pause and monitor for changes," says Dr. Scott. "Let's say your dog is having digestive issues at 11 p.m. You could take him to the emergency vet and pay a hefty fee just to be seen. Or you could pay $12.95 per month for Pet Vet Hotline for unlimited access and speak to a licensed veterinarian immediately who can tell you, ‘He's okay, just watch for these specific symptoms.' This really has the potential to save pets a lot of undue stress and parents lots of money and time."

Allows for treatment on-the-go

Managing pet illnesses or injuries during travel is distressing. You're far from home, far from a familiar, trusted veterinarian, and not sure whether to head back home or continue your trip. Knowing the support of a licensed vet is right at your fingertips, no matter where you roam can give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy your trip. .

Educates and empowers caregivers

When it comes to human colds, stomach bugs, and minor injuries, we all know what to do and which medicines and home remedies will make us feel better. But when it comes to our pets, we're often at a loss. Our dogs and cats can't tell us exactly where they hurt or detail their specific symptoms. We have to rely on what we see, and we're not always sure what we're looking at, or what we should be looking for in terms of changes in behavior or appearance. Human remedies for injuries and illness don't always work well for pets – and can even be dangerous for them.

Through telehealth, veterinarians can educate pet parents about first aid; help them make sense of behavioral changes, which commonly correspond with a pet's overall health; and perhaps most significantly, teach them how to assess their pets so they can make educated decisions about their care and treatment They can also separate truth from fiction when it comes to outdated or anecdotal remedies pet parents may find along the way as they search for answers to their pet health questions.

Learning how to assess your own pet and provide him with basic treatment and care, while knowing that help is readily available whenever you should need it, wherever you happen to be, can ease your anxiety, improve your confidence, and empower you as a pet parent.

Support vets and their staff

A sharp uptick in demand for veterinary services has, in some cases, put an increased strain on veterinary staff. Veterinarians often find themselves in the position of having less time to manage a continuously growing number of patients. Pet parents, for their part, often find themselves dealing with longer wait times, both for care, and for answers to their basic health and wellness questions. Telehealth can help reduce the strain on veterinary offices by fielding general behavioral, health, and nutrition questions, separating urgent health issues from those that are non-urgent, and performing pre-in-clinic visit assessments. This frees up time and resources for veterinary offices, allowing them to run more efficiently, and enabling veterinarians to take more time with patients, and focus on pets with the most serious health issues.

In the end, telehealth can go a long way toward bridging the gap between pet patients, pet parents, and veterinarians.

"As a veterinarian, you're doing the best you can but you can only do so much," says Dr. Scott. "Virtual veterinary services provide easy access to veterinarians, give pet parents the education they need to make the right decisions for their pets, and support veterinarians so they can do the best possible job. I really believe this is a solution for the future."

Kim Salerno is Founder and Chief Executive Officer for TripsWithPets. TripsWithPets is a leader in the pet travel industry – providing online reservations at pet-friendly hotels across the United States and Canada.