- Online vets let you seek care from your own home — Online care, in this case, could be done via video consultation, email, chat, or call on a mobile device (or computer).
- This should not replace in-person vet visits — It’s important to have a local vet physically examine your dog or cat at least once a year and twice a year for senior pets.
- In case of an emergency, opt for in-person versus an online consult — Most online vets will be able to help you determine if it’s truly an emergency and will point you toward a vet in your area if you need to go.
Online vet care has grown in popularity 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 veterinary practice.
The shift to online pet care shows the crucial role it can play in meeting the needs of pet owners of all types of animals. Online vet care offers a great solution for pet owners to have access to expert advice from the comfort of their own homes.
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 health and develop a treatment plan, nutritional needs, allergies, and behavioral concerns. Here’s what you need to know.
The three “terms” of online vet services
Telehealth. This is a general term that refers to any use of technology (phone, laptop, tablet) to provide health-related information outside of in-person care at the physical vet’s office.
Teletriage. This service helps a pet owner assess their pet’s health and decide if they need to take their pet to the vet based on conditions that they’re observing. It can be helpful; especially if pawrents think their pet might be having an emergency.
Telemedicine. This covers veterinarian diagnoses and treatment for a pet’s symptoms or condition virtually. It’s commonly used for concerns like seasonal allergies, skin rashes, or behavioral concerns.
🚨 Remember: Online vet appointments are handy, but legally, these vets can’t diagnose or treat pets without an in-person exam. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association , telemedicine still requires pet owners to have a valid VCPR from within the last year, except for veterinary advice given in an emergency care situation until a patient can be seen or transported to a vet.
How online vets work
Every online vet company is different. 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. Some services even have mobile apps that give you unlimited access to vets for added convenience.
Once pre-admission happens, an online vet tech or process will ask for your pet’s information — like their date of birth, breed, vaccinations, or any previous health conditions they might have. You’ll then start a video call, a phone call, a live chat, or an email to talk to the veterinarian.
Most online vets cannot give you a specific diagnosis without a hands-on exam. However, they’ll be able to advise you and give you general answers about your concerns, products, supplements, or over-the-counter medications that could help. Talking with an online vet can give you peace of mind about whether you need to take your pet to a physical clinic or not.
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. Check their website for details on vet qualifications and licensing, and look for affiliations with recognized veterinary organizations. This can further attest to credibility and expertise.
- Availability. It’s important to find online vet services that are accessible 24/7. This gives owners peace of mind that whenever they need help, they’ll have help. Pawrents 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, and prescription delivery — allowing you to find all your pet’s healthcare needs in one place.
- Communication methods. Online vets should have multiple communication methods so pet owners can contact them at any time. Video chatting gives a veterinarian a chance to put eyes on your pet; while a video chat, phone calls, or emails are great for answering less time-sensitive questions or concerns.
When to use an online vet (and when not to)
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:
🚨 Emergencies are times when you should not use an online vet. These are conditions that require your pet to be immediately seen by a vet. However, online vets can help you decide whether it’s a true emergency based on your pet’s symptoms or if it can wait until the next day. They can help you find a local emergency room if you need to go.
Here’s a list of common emergencies that an online vet can’t (and shouldn’t) treat:
- Difficulty breathing
- Open-wound injuries
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea
- Swollen abdomen or retching
- Sudden collapse
- Inability to urinate (especially in male cats)
For things like ongoing and chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, Cushing’s disease, and thyroid conditions, you should still go to your regular vet. Although there are some instances when an online vet can give you quick answers and alleviate concerns, an online vet should complement in-person visits — not replace them.
In-person care ensures that the complexities of these conditions are addressed through a hands-on evaluation and exam. This allows your vet to get a more thorough understanding of your pet’s condition and allows them to make a pet-specific treatment plan.
If you’re looking to introduce new elements like prescription medication, diet, or supplements, your primary in-person vet is still the best consultant. Embracing this blend of both online and in-person consultations helps approach your pet’s well-being holistically to provide the best possible care.
👉 Check out our list of the best online vets to get a better idea of the costs for each.
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 $99 per year, while PetCoach offers discounted veterinary services for $9 per month. It’s common for online vet companies to offer a monthly subscription or one-time service.
👉 Check out our guide to creating a pet budget and learn how much pets cost from day one.
How to prepare for your pet’s online vet appointment
Preparing for your pet’s online vet visit can help make sure your appointment is productive and informative. Have all of your questions or concerns written down and on-hand. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have your pet’s medical history available and any photos or videos 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. It can really help the vet provide the right expert advice since they can’t do a hands-on exam themselves. If you choose this option, be sure to check your connection beforehand to avoid any tech issues during the appointment.
An online vet visit is beneficial for explaining symptoms and showing your pet’s condition in real-time without leaving your home. This interactive online approach can help you communicate details and help your vet gain valuable insights into your pet’s well-being to provide more accurate and tailored advice.
Online vet care is a valid form of care in non-emergency cases, offering convenience and peace of mind to pets and owners. Using online vet services, you can have expert advice right at your fingertips — and you can do it without breaking the bank. Not sure where to start? Research before a medical need hits your home, and find an online service to keep on speed dial. Future you will thank you!
Frequently asked questions
Can an online vet prescribe antibiotics?
Depending on your state and the type of online pet care you choose, you can use telemedicine services like Dutch and Vetster if you need an online vet service that can prescribe medication.
It’s important to remember that veterinarians must establish a VCPR before prescribing medication. Check out the laws in your state to see if you qualify for online prescriptions and to view any other requirements.
Are online veterinarians legit?
Yes, virtual visits are conducted by licensed veterinarians via the services listed above. Online vets offer legitimate advice and resources for pet health care.
What is the best online vet service?
The best online vet service will depend on your budget and what you’re looking for, like if they offer prescriptions, 24/7 advice, or emergency funds. Check out our favorite online vet services for more information.
What is a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR)?
A VCPR is established when your veterinarian is familiar enough with your pet to treat and diagnose them. In the VCPR, you allow your vet to make clinical judgments, ask questions, and follow their guidance. Your vet assumes the responsibility of your pet and their medical care.
Most of the time, this is established at a physical veterinary clinic. But, depending on your state, this may be defined as having done an in-person physical exam within the past year. In states where this relationship is allowed to be established electronically, an in-person examination will still be required for certain medications and other things.
If the VCPR is established but your pet is not regularly seen afterward, the VCPR is no longer valid . It’s then illegal and unethical for your veterinarian to administer medications or recommend treatment without a recent physical exam. The VCPR relationship is crucial for your pet to receive medication.
Does my primary vet offer virtual vet services?
This is going to depend on your vet. Your primary vet may offer online vet services, but it’s best to check with them to see if they do or if they recommend any.
When should you seek immediate in-office or emergency veterinary care?
When in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and seek professional veterinary advice. Taking immediate action increases the chances of successful treatment and minimizes potential long-term effects. Getting veterinary intervention ensures the best possible outcome.