September 22, 2020

What is Vet Tele-medicine & Does it Work?

Dr Jessica Waldman, Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation


Any pet owner knows the importance of taking their beloved pet to the vet when they fall ill or are injured. Consulting with a vet is not only important when your pet is sick, but at other times too. For example, if you want to start your pet on a specialty diet like Visionary Pet grain-free food, it is a good idea to check with your vet first.

However, when we are being told to stay at home, how to you consult with your vet? Vet tele-medicine may be the solution – but does this really work? 


What is Vet Tele-medicine?

Tele-medicine has been widely used for many years for human patients. It uses electronic forms of communication such as video chats, phone calls or text messages to allow patients to consult with a doctor, nurse or other medical profession in a different location. This has now become a standard practice in human healthcare, giving people better access to treatment, and helping to take pressure off health systems.

Vet tele-medicine has developed more recently, following a similar model to human tele-medicine. It involves a consultation with a qualified vet over the phone or video. One of the biggest differences between human tele-medicine and vet tele-medicine is that when it comes to consultations for pets, the pet’s owner needs to relay information to the vet. This means reporting on the signs or symptoms you have noted and may involve the vet asking you to take step to help them to assess your pet’s condition.


The Importance of Vet Tele-medicine

It is absolutely essential to have proper access to a vet to protect your pet’s health and wellbeing. Our pets cannot talk to tell us if they are hurting or feeling unwell. This means that we need to be vigilant and look out for signs of illness or injury as this could indicate a serious problem. Additionally, health problems in pets can develop very rapidly, so it is important to address any signs and symptoms straight away.

Many times, your concerns can be resolved without physical investigation. It is important to be able to consult with a vet to know if the symptom or signs you are noticing are a reason to be worried. The will be able to tell you if you need to bring your pet in for a physical examination, if there are steps you can take yourself, or if there is nothing to worry about.

This is important in the context of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, when we are being told that we need to limit our contact with others as much as possible. Tele-medicine allows you to only go into the vet surgery in person when it is absolutely necessary.

Even regardless of the pandemic, vet tele-medicine can be very useful for people in a range of situations which make it difficult to visit a vet in person, for example people who are disabled, who don’t have a car, or who live in a rural or remote area. Equally, some pets get very anxious when they need to go to the vet. Tele-medicine therefore means that they only need to go to the vet and suffer from this anxiety when absolutely necessary.

Limitations of Vet Tele-medicine

It should be acknowledged that although it is very valuable in a range of situations, vet tele-medicine does have its limitations. In some cases the vet will need to physically examine your pet in order to make a proper diagnosis and recommend the best course of treatment. During a physical exam, your vet can use a variety of senses to make the best diagnosis, not only touch, but also sight, sound and smell. However, a proper tele-consultation with your vet should allow them to give you proper advice and recommend to you when your pet needs a consultation with a vet in person.

Another limitation of vet tele-medicine is that it relies on the pet owner’s ability to accurately describe signs and symptoms. If the pet owner does not accurately notice these signs or completely relay the information to the vet, the diagnosis may be flawed. Additionally, bias can influence the quality of the information relayed. It is very common for us to color the information we give with our own interpretations, which can also be misleading. This means that for vet tele-medicine to be effective  pet owners must ensure that the information they relay is accurate and complete, and as free from interpretation and bias as much as possible.

How to Use Vet Tele-medicine

Vet tele-medicine can be extremely helpful in some circumstances. It is most useful when you want to know whether you need to bring your pet in for an in-person consultation, or if you want their advice on a particular subject.

Furthermore, vet tele-medicine is only really possible if your vet has an existing relationship with your pet. If the vet has seen your pet in person in the past, they will be able to apply their previous knowledge to make informed assessments now. This means that vet tele-medicine is only suitable for on-going treatment, and not if you are looking to consult with a new vet for the first time.


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