Not all pets love a visit to the vet. Anxiety and fear can overwhelm even the brawniest furchild. And that’s without even considering the car trip where they may cry, whine or bark the entire way there. Getting your pooch out of their comfort zone and out of the house can be a challenge for your furry family member.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can accomplish quite a lot from the comfort and safety of our home. Ordering groceries? I’ll do it on the couch in my sweats. Need to go to the gym? Those cans of food make great weights on the living room floor. We have come to appreciate the convenience of virtual services and telemedicine, and our dog or cat can benefit from online vets too.
Next time your doggo has some niggles that you’re concerned about, consider online vet care. The chances are that after months at home, your dog has become accustomed to video calls, and they’ll perform for the vet like never before.
What is Online Vet Care?
Online veterinary care is a service for pet owners that offers virtual chat consults. You can access telehealth services with your mobile device, via email, live chat video, text messaging, or on an integrated platform via an app. Chatting to various pet experts on one platform is convenient, affordable, and deals with problems quicker than if you had to wait for an in-office appointment.
Independent online vet services are for pet owners who are remote or choose not to go into a physical veterinary office. These services are commonly available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If further help is needed, and your furbaby needs a physical exam, they can refer you to a licensed veterinarian in your area.
Most online vet care services operate on a subscription basis, but once-off appointments are also available at a set fee.
How Can Online Vet Services Help?
Online vet services provide expert advice and care for general questions, parasite control, nutritional and diet concerns, and behavior or training problems.
Nothing can replace a face-to-snout appointment if your cat or dog is struggling with a severe physical ailment. But there are many times when we grapple with whether their symptoms are worth worrying about. Your cat, for example, is an expert at hiding its pain. Or you may be at odds about how to handle your dog’s separation anxiety. Animals can display the strangest symptoms. Speaking to an online veterinarian will help determine if it’s something you should wait out or if you should schedule an appointment at your local vet clinic.
What is Covered with Online Vet Care?
With online pet care, you can receive guidance and advice about the “next step” in your pet’s health or behavior plan. Often, pet parents can send videos or photographs via a live chat to get clear information from a vet. Some online vet sites also host a store for medication, probiotics, supplements, and flea and tick treatments.
In the U.S., state and federal requirements stipulate that vets need to seriously consider a physical visit before embarking on virtual consultations and prescribing medications for pets. These conditions have been flexible considering the pandemic and a need for social distancing.
Typically, veterinarians are restricted from prescribing medication for pets without a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), meaning that a hands-on exam has to have been conducted recently to warrant the ability to prescribe or diagnose your pet.
Online pet experts cannot diagnose or prescribe medication, so you will need to visit the vet if your pet is ill.
If your family vet is familiar with your pet’s needs and diagnosis, they can extend their service online for follow-up advice, ongoing prescriptions, and treatment discussions. For virtual pet services that do not have a physical office, the pet expert can advise you to seek the attention of your nearest emergency clinic.
When Should I Seek In-Office or Emergency Care for My Pet?
Seeking online help during a desperate situation is never a good idea. Every minute counts. If your pet has experienced a traumatic injury or is showing concerning symptoms, then it’s never a good idea to keep them home and wait for online vet advice.
Your pet’s situation and medical condition can spiral if they are not seen immediately. Toxicity, internal bleeding, and external blood loss require emergency, in-clinic care.
Even if the situation isn’t so desperate, some symptoms can signal a severe underlying condition. Take your cat or dog to the vet if they have experienced any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
- Pale or bluish gums
- Loss of appetite or no eating for more than 24 hours
- Collapse – an inability to stand or walk
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Swollen abdomen and retching
- Signs of poisoning or traces of poisonous substances near your dog
- Persistent or bloody vomiting or diarrhea
- Painful or strenuous urination, or blood in the urine (upper respiratory infections)
- Visible signs of pain – crying out, aggressive when touched, limping, etc
Pets who have become obese over time, are become less active, or are showing signs of aging could have underlying conditions. Osteoarthritis and obesity-related conditions are common in senior animals, and taking them for a physical checkup is the best thing you can do to make sure that they’re okay.
After diagnosis and the formulation of an optimum wellness plan, you can always seek online answers and advice for the everyday issues of your pet’s chronic condition. Maybe you have questions about their diet or their side effects to chronic medications. This is when you can connect with your online veterinarian and ask their opinion on your pet’s wellness care.
Best Online Vet Services
When it comes to pet health, you want the very best for your furbaby. Licensed veterinarians, pet behavior experts, and vet techs are more knowledgeable and up-to-date than the answers you may find on a quick Google search. Trusting Dr. Google is never a good idea, and so we advise you to seek professional advice from one of these best online vet services:
1. Fuzzy Pet Health
The Fuzzy pet parent company specializes in pet care information for cats and dogs. By downloading their app or visiting their website, pet parents can connect with the Fuzzy licensed vet team for expert advice via live and video chat. This service is available 24/7 for advice or standard triage assistance.
Pros: Online store for vet-recommended products. Tracking of your pet’s health records. 24/7 service all year around. Easy, quick chat option. Various tiers of service and customizable pricing. Informative blog.
Cons: Not covered by pet insurance.
Phone, live chat, instant message, or video chat with WhiskerDocs veterinary telehealth specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After signing up, WhiskerDocs veterinarians can answer your pet’s health questions or concerns.
A monthly subscription costs $16.99, or an annual subscription costs $129.99 for the following:
- Call, chat, or email as much as you need.
- 75% off additional pets for yearly plans.
- Easy cancel anytime.
Pros: Subscription or pay-as-you-go options. Compatible with pet insurance. Companies can partner with WhiskerDocs and offer their services as a benefit to their employees. Archives of symptoms, wellness, disease, or behavior are available for free and easy to access. Access to a Toxins library.
Cons: The pay-as-you-go option can be pricy; instead consider a monthly or yearly subscription. Once-off calls or chats cost $39.99 if you are not a subscriber.
By purchasing the AskVet app ($29.99 per month), you get unlimited access to licensed veterinarians. Their guidance, advice, and education are not limited to cats and dogs, but they are also knowledgeable about exotic pets.
The pet experts also offer referrals to local general practice veterinarians if your pet needs a physical exam. A private consultation with an AskVet veterinarian is $19.99 (no cutoff time).
Pros: Uncomplicated process. Exotic pet care. Available 24/7. An online blog with a wealth of information about common ailments or behavioral changes.
Cons: Not covered by pet insurance.
PetCoach helps pet parents in a variety of ways. Their online forum archives provide a powerhouse of information where you can find answers about your pet’s weird behavior, breed, general care, and nutrition.
Through their information centers, you can get free pet care advice. Suppose you wish to speak to a PetCoach professional on a specific issue unaddressed on the forum. In that case, PetCoach will connect you with an animal specialist for only $5 who can assist you, view images of your pet, and offer advice.
For $20, you can opt for a private, in-depth consultation with a veterinary specialist, including unlimited text messaging and unlimited image sharing. Accessibility is through the PetCoach website or mobile app.
Pros: 24/7 service. Access to free online Q&A forum. Discussions cover a variety of pet topics. Most affordable ($5) quick image sharing and vet access. Premium fees are only for private consultations. Pet weight calculator.
Cons: Not covered by pet insurance.
VetLIVE guarantees their users that the person answering your queries is a vetted, licensed veterinarian. VetLIVE offers a quick form system on their website to send your query or concern to an animal specialist 24/7.
After filling in your question and providing personal information for a response, you can select the consulting type you’d like. There is no flat fee or subscription, but you do need to create an account. Consult options are:
- Live chat ($19.95, 20 minutes via instant messaging)
- Ask A Veterinarian ($12.95)
- Nutritional Consultation ($29.95)
- A second opinion from a veterinarian ($34.95).
Pros: Access to common queries and hot-topics. You can donate to the PetLIVE charity. If the vet on-call cannot answer your question, then you do not pay.
Cons: Not covered by pet insurance. Higher fees after hours and weekends.
Online Vet – A Supportive and Trustworthy Space
Keep in mind that nothing can replace an in-office checkup and it’s important to take your pet for regular wellness exams. Frequent visits to the vet can enable early diagnosis and keep track of preventative care so that your pet can live a long life.
However, the convenience and knowledge of online vets are a remarkable resource for daily concerns. With online pet care, companion animals are receiving better treatment than ever before.
One study found that when asked, “Why do you look at pet health information on the internet?” The answers included the desire for a second opinion, clarification of information, a reiteration of diagnosis information and treatment expectations, or curiosity about general pet health and daily care.
Pet owners are taking a more active role in their pet’s well-being and feeling empowered with expert information that’s accessible day and night. Before, pet parents would dismiss seemingly insignificant symptoms of a disease while the illness silently progressed. Now, with the ability to “ask a vet” a question on your mobile phone, pet owners can discuss information with an expert and grow in confidence in their ability to manage their pet’s wellness.
Pets are living longer and healthier lives! Now doesn’t that sound great?
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I talk to a vet online for free?
No, you cannot speak directly to a vet for free, but many Online Vet sites have forum archives or blogs with search engines that allow you to search for previously-addressed queries and hot-topics.
Can I get a vet prescription online?
No. Veterinarians are restricted from prescribing medication for pets without a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), meaning that a hands-on exam has to have been conducted recently to warrant the ability to prescribe or diagnose your pet.
How much does an online vet cost?
Prices vary depending on the Online Vet service you choose. A once-off conversation on PetCoach costs $5. If you want unlimited chat services for an entire year, then you can go with a company like WhiskerDoc that charges $129.99 per annum.