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Everything you need to know about online vets

Many pet parents began using a virtual veterinarian during the pandemic, but how exactly do online vet visits work? Here’s what you need to know.

Updated September 14, 2021

Created By

Emily Johnson,

📷 by Pavel Herceg

The essentials

  • Veterinary telemedicine involves speaking with a vet from the comfort of your home — This could be via video, email, chat, or call on a mobile device or computer.
  • Online consults are great for answering general pet health concerns — Nutritional advice, behavioral concerns, exercise, parasite prevention, etc.
  • This should not be a replacement for in-person vet visits — It’s important to have a local vet do a physical exam of your pet at least twice a year.
  • In case of emergency, go to an in-person clinic versus using an online consult — Most online vets will be able to help you determine if it’s truly an emergency and point you toward a vet in your area.

The rise of online veterinary services

Online vet care has been growing exponentially over the last few years, but it really skyrocketed in 2020 during COVID-19. To follow social distancing, some pet owners began using virtual consultations with vets and vet techs rather than going into a clinic. There are many ways an online vet can help without physically being in the same room as your pet — They can answer any general questions about your pet’s nutritional needs, allergies, and behavioral concerns.

Online vet appointments are handy, but legally these vets can’t diagnose or treat pets without an in-person exam. This is why it’s so highly recommended to maintain a valid vet-client-patient relationship (VCPR), especially for semi-annual health checks and emergencies.

There are a few areas of online pet care to know: teletriage, telemedicine, and telehealth.

  • Telehealth. A general term that refers to any use of technology (phone, laptop, tablet) to provide health-related information outside of the physical vet’s office.
  • Teletriage. Helps a pet owner decide if they need to take their pet to the vet based on conditions that they’re observing, especially if they think it’s an emergency.
  • Telemedicine. This is when a vet diagnoses and treats a condition for a specific pet virtually — commonly used for things like seasonal allergies or behavioral concerns.

👉 According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, telemedicine still requires pet owners to have a valid VCPR from within the last year, with the exception of advice given in an emergency care situation until a patient can be seen or transported to a vet.

How online vets work

Get an appointment — Every online vet company is different and will have their own way of doing things. Some companies will use an appointment system for you to book a date and time. Others may use a queuing system where you don’t have an appointment, instead, you’ll wait for a vet in an online waiting room. Some services even have mobile apps that give you unlimited access to vets for added convenience.

They’ll ask for your pet’s information — You need to enter your pet’s medical history — such as date of birth, breed, microchip details, vaccination history, any previous health conditions, etc. — or be ready to list these off to a vet during the consultation. This helps the vet make a proper diagnosis or give the best possible advice.

Talk to the vet — You’ll hop on a video call, a phone call, a live chat, or communicate via email in order to ask your questions or address whatever concerns you have about your pet.

Visit your in-person vet for prescriptions. Most online vets will be able to give you general answers, but they won’t be able to give you a specific diagnosis without a hands-on exam. However, they can advise you about products, supplements, or over-the-counter medications that could help. In the end, the likely result will be some professional advice and peace of mind on whether you need to take your pet into a physical clinic or not.

Best times to use an online vet

There are plenty of times when using an online vet is possible rather than going into your physical vet clinic. Here’s a list of some common conditions and behaviors that can be discussed during an online vet consultation:

  • Skin conditions
  • Parasites
  • Minor wounds
  • Behavioral concerns
  • Training questions
  • Nutritional advice
  • Determining if the situation requires emergency care

Chronic conditions should ideally be consulted with your regular vet since they’ll have the ongoing medical history — but there might be times when an online vet could put your mind at ease by answering a quick question or concern. These are some of the most common ongoing and chronic conditions that a vet online can discuss with you:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Thyroid conditions

Times when online vets aren't recommended

Emergencies. These are conditions that require your pet to be immediately seen by a vet. Online vets can help you decide whether it’s a true emergency or if it can wait until the next day, and they can help you find a local emergency clinic if you need to go.

Here’s a list of common emergencies that can’t be treated by an online vet:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Open-wound injuries
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • Swollen abdomen or retching
  • Seizing
  • Sudden collapse
  • Inability to urinate (especially in male cats)

Yearly check-ups. Online vet care shouldn’t be used as a replacement for in-person visits. It’s still important to establish a relationship with a vet in your area so your pet can visit at least twice a year for a hands-on checkup.

Prescriptions. If your pet needs medications, you’ll be required to visit the vet in person. However, most online vets can recommend supplements and over-the-counter medications. We recommend visiting your pet’s primary vet before starting them on a new diet, medications, or supplements since they’ll know your furry friend best.

👉 To help cover the costs of unexpected in-person vet visits, make sure you invest in a pet insurance policy for your pet. Here’s a list of our recommended insurance providers

How to choose a safe and reputable online vet

With so many options available, picking the right online vet can seem daunting. There are a few things you should keep in mind to make the decision easier:

Certified vets. You should choose online vet care that’s staffed with certified veterinary professionals. Some also use vet techs, who may not always be able to help you in your situation, so be sure to know who you’re working with.

Availability. It’s important to find online vet services that are accessible 24/7. This gives owners peace of mind whenever they need help. Pet owners should also look for services that provide appointment times if they’re on a tight schedule and want to know exactly when they’ll speak to a vet.

Services. Check for platforms that offer multiple types of services. This could include consultations, nutritional advice, prescription delivery, so you can find all your pet healthcare needs in one place.

Communication methods. Online vets should have multiple communication methods for pet owners to be able to get in contact with them at any time. Video chatting gives a vet the chance to put eyes on your pet, while phone calls, video chats, or emails are great for answering less time-sensitive questions or concerns.

Cost of using an online vet

Online vet services range in terms of cost, depending on what they offer. For example, Pawp offers a $3,000 emergency fund for up to six animals for only $19 per month, while PetCoach offers answers to single questions for $5 and private consults for $20. It’s common for online vet companies to offer a monthly subscription or one-time service.

👉  Check out our list of the best online vets to get a better idea on the costs for each.

How to prepare for your pet’s online vet appointment

If you have an online vet appointment scheduled, here are some tips on how to best prepare:

Have a list handy Write down all of the questions and concerns you have about your pet, so you don’t forget anything.

Keep their records close Have your pet’s medical history readily available in case the vet asks for it.

Check your signal — Make sure you have a consistent internet connection if it’s a video chat, or have a smartphone with a camera to take photos or videos to send if the vet wants to see evidence of what’s going on. Sometimes a quick video is easier than back-and-forth typing or being able to share an image of previous lab work can really help the vet provide the right advice since they can’t do a hands-on exam themselves.