We've heard about telehealth for people, but now it's there for animals too. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there's been a significant increase in telemedicine, and some veterinarians are entirely virtual.
The pandemic has proven we can do almost anything from our couches, computers and phones. We've grown accustomed to all things virtual and it seems our pets are used to it too.
“It really highlights the value of something like this and it also really highlights where society is living. Even before the pandemic, turned to google, turned to the internet first. It's our first step in almost everything,” says Dr. Sarah Machell.
Machell is the lead veterinarian for Vetster, which provides on-demand virtual care for your pet.
“Consultations, meeting pet owners in their homes, where they are with their pets, and helping to address urgent and preventive care health conversations to them,” Machell said.
She says the company, which launched in October 2019, wasn’t formed because of the pandemic, but they certainly evolved at the right time.
"The veterinary clinics themselves are feeling a really heavy surge with the pandemic. It’s a pretty crushing situation for them. We already as a profession had some staffing challenges, not enough veterinarians for how many pets and pet owners there are,” Machell said.
Pet owners, she says, often have a hard time getting an appointment. Or they have to wait in their cars with their animal outside of their clinic. And, according to Vetster, 50% of pet owners don't even have an established home clinic.
“There was a poll recently that showed 37% of American households welcomed a new pet into their home during the pandemic. Pandemic puppies are a real thing,” Machell said.
“I think it offers a great addition to the tools I have at my disposal. Telehealth can be used very much the same way,” said Dr. Douglass Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The AVMA serves roughly 96,000 veterinarians across the country. They've been through a lot this year, adjusting to new norms, like all of us. As in human medicine, they've had to perfect, or initiate virtual options.
“It doesn’t replace your veterinarian. What it does is help your vet better serve you and your family member,” Kratt said.
Kratt admits there are some obvious challenges.
“I can’t hear if your dog is coughing, I can’t listen to the heart and lungs via telemedicine so that wouldn’t be amenable,” Kratt said.
He says, however, it's effective overall, and especially worthwhile if it's with your established vet. But if you don't have one, Vetster and other businesses like it aim to help.
“There are so many pets and pet owners who sometimes sit on things and aren’t sure if they need to go into a clinic, really appreciate that piece of mind in the middle of the night that no, you don’t need to pack yourself up and get into a vet clinic. This is something you’re okay to wait until the morning,” Machell said.
And she says they're prepared to help all animals from pocket pets to exotic and large animals. It’s yet another adjustment and another pivot in 2020.