When I first heard about online vet consultations, my initial reaction was – what a great concept! I was relieved at the thought of being able to ditch in-person consults and see a vet from the comfort of my own home. Anyone who struggles with getting their cat into a carrier or has to listen to them sing the song of their people during car rides, will know exactly what I mean. I soon realised though, that if a vet is unable to touch my cat or run any diagnostic tests this could negatively impact their treatment.
So, is there a place for online vet telehealth appointments? How do they work and are they effective in resolving pet health concerns?
The answer is yes – vet services online are worthwhile, but only in certain situations. If your pet is having an acute emergency, then an online vet consultation is not right for you. But if you’re looking for general advice about minor concerns or help with deciding if your pet needs to see a vet in person, then online clinics are really useful for concerned pet parents.
When should you use an online vet?
Personally, I’m a bit of a worrywart, so I often use an online vet for triage. If your cat has had a fall or you notice a new wound, they can tell you if you need to go to the emergency vet or if it can wait until your regular vet clinic is open. Because the online vet is available 24/7 and it’s considerably cheaper than my local after-hours emergency animal hospital, this has saved me quite a lot of money in the past year or so.
Online veterinarians are also great for post-surgery advice and first aid instructions. They can also help you with basic advice, like diet and nutrition and choosing appropriate and safe parasite treatments for your pet. A few times, I’ve made an appointment to get a second opinion when I was confused about something my local vet said or felt unsure about their instructions.
The main downside is that an online vet can’t prescribe medications. For legal and ethical reasons, vets can only write prescriptions for pets they have examined in person.
You should not use an online vet if your pet:
Our personal experience using an online vet
I recently consulted with an online vet about potential medication side effects.
Max was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and prescribed medication by our vet. Late at night, a few days after starting these meds, he developed a pinkish rash on his face. I wasn’t sure whether this was a coincidence, or a side effect of the medication? Should I be concerned? Should I continue with the medication or stop it? Did I need to take him to the emergency after-hours vet clinic, or could I wait and call my own vet when they reopened in the morning?
Sometimes you just need someone with the right experience and qualifications to talk it through with you – and this is where an online vet appointment can be really valuable. An online vet consultation will help you reach a decision about the urgency of a situation and the best course of action.
How online vet consultations work
It’s really easy to book an online vet appointment. The booking system is similar across most of the clinics I’ve used.
Once you click the ‘book now’ button, you’ll be guided through a series of questions about your pet. You’ll be asked to give a brief description of their health or behavioural issues so that they can match you with a vet who can help.
Then, it will take you to a list of licensed veterinarians. You’ll usually get to see a photo of the vet you’ll be speaking with, as well as a detailed summary of their qualifications, work experience and the areas of practice they specialise in. Once you pick a vet, choose a time, and pay the fee, you’ll be sent a link to join your video or voice call via email. The rest is pretty similar to a normal vet consult.
How to prepare for your virtual vet visit
You don’t need to do much to get ready for your appointment, but I recommend taking your pet to a quiet room in the house where it’s easy to listen and respond during the session. Bring any relevant records you have with you, as well as any medication your pet is taking.
I find it helps if I write down my questions before the call, since it’s easy to forget them once you’re talking to the vet.
The pros and cons of using an online vet
|Can triage your pet and potentially save you from an expensive emergency vet trip||Can’t prescribe medications|
|Can assist with general advice (such as parasite treatment, diet, etc.) at a much lower cost||Can’t run lab tests|
|Reduces your pet’s stress levels compared to a regular clinic visit||Can’t make a formal diagnosis|
|Is available to help 24/7 via mobile app||Requires a relatively fast, stable internet connection|
|Can give second opinions and help with post-surgical advice||The vet may not be local to you|
How much does a virtual vet visit cost?
Much like physical vet clinics, all online veterinary clinics have different fees. Typically, the cost depends on things like their level of expertise. I noticed that consults were a little more expensive during the night in my time zone, but only by about A$10 extra.
When I last used an online vet, the appointments started at around A$50-70. This was a pretty good price, considering it was 11:30 pm and my local after-hours clinic charges A$280 per appointment.
Online chat versus video consultations
Online vet appointments can be conducted via video live chat, text-based chat, or a voice call. Many online veterinary services will also have their own app which you can download and use from your phone. Whether you connect via a desktop or laptop computer or a mobile device, I strongly recommend choosing video chat because this is the only way the vet can actually see your pet.
Benefits of online vets in any location
One of the unique things about using an online veterinary services clinic is that you aren’t limited to just the vets who work near you. When I booked my appointment, I was able to choose from vets in my city as well as vets in other countries. Since the doctor can’t prescribe medicine, there’s no downside to seeing an international vet.
I found that consulting with vets from other countries gave me access to a wider field of knowledge, particularly when I asked them about my cat’s atopic dermatitis. Instead of receiving the same advice as local vets gave me, the online vets I spoke with had new ideas about how to manage this condition.
Online vets are a really good resource for triage, and for pet owners who are seeking general advice, first aid instructions, and second opinions. But if your pet is having an emergency, don’t book an online vet appointment: take them straight to your local vet clinic.