In recent years, many Canadians have seen firsthand the benefits of virtual care. But what about care for our furry companions?
Veterinarians can offer pets and their owners a wide range of virtual services, from diagnoses and prescriptions, to post-operative care and behavioural treatment plans. Though telemedicine is not right for every situation, there are many cases in which a vet can provide comprehensive, quality care in a fully virtual format.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, vets didn’t often utilize virtual care. The general wisdom was that not much could be done without a hands-on physical exam. In 2020, everything changed. In addition to social distancing measures, pet adoptions skyrocketed and exacerbated the pre-existing veterinary shortage, which meant that pet owners could no longer access their veterinarians for non-urgent medical issues in a timely manner. Suddenly, veterinarians were having to provide prescriptions and care instructions in advance of seeing their patients because they were so heavily booked.
It became a common experience to call the vet and have them prescribe a medication for your pet to start while waiting for their appointment. If the medication resolved the problem, vets would cancel the booked appointment to free up space for other pets. If it didn’t, then the appointment would be conducted as planned.
The pet adoption boom meant that more and more pet medical conditions were being treated based on symptoms that pet owners observed, with the help of photos and videos. This shift toward virtual care turned out to be a good opportunity to study whether or not virtual care was effective for pets.
Statistics from studies and surveys completed during the pandemic demonstrated treatment success rates between 75 and 89 per cent, without pets ever needing to visit their clinics.
Below are just a few of the benefits of virtual care for pets.
Convenient assessments and follow-ups
Telemedicine creates the opportunity for virtual triage – that is, an initial appointment that allows a vet to assess whether a pet’s symptoms require immediate care, or whether they can be monitored at home.
Veterinarians are very experienced in dealing with feline and canine health issues. They also rely heavily on pet owners’ descriptions of their pets’ symptoms when diagnosing medical conditions, and formulating treatment plans.
In many cases, vets can determine whether an unusual symptom or behaviour is an urgent medical concern over a video call, so you can save in-person vet visits for those times when it’s absolutely necessary. It can be understandably frustrating to pay for a virtual appointment only to learn you’ll need to see a vet in person. Through the TELUS Health MyPet app, you don’t have to worry about paying twice – if your veterinarian determines within the first few minutes of your consultation that your pet needs immediate in-person care, you will be fully refunded the cost of your virtual consultation.
Virtual care also works as a complement to hands-on veterinary services. Virtual care can help you avoid the stress of travel and clinic visits with your pet if your cat or dog has had recent surgery or is recovering from an injury or illness. Vets can also prescribe and refill medications through virtual consultations.
Virtual consultations are often more convenient for pets and their owners than in-person appointments. If you’re not sure whether or not your pet needs to see a vet, booking a virtual consultation can provide peace of mind and help you determine whether in-person care is required.
Less stress for pets
Most dogs and cats would rather do just about anything than go to the vet. Anxious pets can be difficult to examine thoroughly, and if your pet tends to hide or becomes reactive when they feel threatened, bringing them to the clinic can be an ordeal.
The stress of going to the vet can also impact a pet’s behaviour, sometimes making it difficult for veterinarians to accurately assess discomfort levels and signs of pain, particularly in pets like cats who are masterful at hiding their symptoms. The surge in stress hormones that some pets experience when visiting the clinic can actually temporarily reduce their pain – so symptoms like lameness can appear to spontaneously resolve. For obvious reasons, this makes accurate diagnosis more challenging.
With a virtual appointment, your pet never has to leave their home, which can make for a much calmer experience.
Vets can see pets in their environment
Virtual care for pets creates a unique advantage in that it allows the vet to see cats and dogs in their natural environment. Some behavioural issues, such as aggression or appetite issues, can arise from environmental factors – for example, the placement of food and water dishes, or the presence of other pets in the home.
If needed, a vet can take a look at your pet’s home base, and identify any environmental factors that might need adjustment. Combined with home monitoring to ensure an issue resolves, virtual care can potentially save you the stress and time associated with repeat clinic visits, while still effectively treating your pet’s condition.
Expert answers to non-emergency questions
Virtual care for pets makes it easy for pet owners to ask questions and get answers about minor concerns that may not warrant a trip to the vet. Not having to manage a stressed-out pet can make it easier to have a conversation with your vet about things like weight management, travel, and life-stage care.
Just like virtual care for humans, telemedicine for pets can also help make non-emergency veterinary care more accessible, particularly for those that live in rural areas where there may not be a veterinary office within a convenient distance.
While telemedicine is not a substitute for urgent in-person veterinary care, diagnostics, vaccinations, or in-clinic procedures such as dental work, it can certainly help to relieve some of the stress of in-person vet appointments, and minimize the amount of time you spend at the vet clinic each year. With virtual care, you can get the same quality of care you’d expect from a visit to a vet clinic, all from the comfort of your home.
If you have questions about your pet’s health, or need prompt advice about specific symptoms, vets and vet techs on the TELUS Health MyPet app can help. Download the app, create your profile, and book an appointment to see a vet conveniently from your home.1
1Not applicable to all cases. A veterinarian may decide that an in-person visit is required to ensure your pet receives appropriate care. Most provinces require veterinarians to provide after-hours care. TELUS Health MyPet recommends seeing your regular veterinarian first when possible. For those who do not currently have a regular veterinarian, or when care is not accessible, we are here to support you and your pet.