TOP #21: Veterinary Telemedicine for Dogs

Telemedicine for humans have been around for a while, but recently veterinarians have started been adopting it for their clients with dogs and cats as well. But is veterinary telemedicine a reliable way to seek help for your dog, and how exactly does it work?

For this podcast episode, I was happy to have James Andrews, DVM from vet tech company Felcana back on the show and answer some important questions for us. Back in December, I've talked with James about the pros and cons of dog health trackers, and this time we've discussed what veterinary telemedicine is and how it can benefit dog owners.

In this episode, we'll get some advice on how to use veterinary telemedicine for our pets and why shouldn't rely on it completely just yet. We'll discuss how vets and pet owners work together with this method, and what are the advantages and disadvantages.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Veterinary Telemedicine for Dogs
(raw podcast transcript)

Veterinary Telemedicine for Dogs

* Scroll down below to read the interview with James Andrews, DVM.

[00:00:19] This week on Theory of Pets I want to talk about telemedicine. I'm hearing a lot of different things about telemedicine. We have friends and family members that have mentioned it. They've heard about it or they're wondering about it. I've had listeners send me messages asking about telemedicine and basically the gist of it is people want to know is if it's all that it's cracked up to be.

It seems like it's going to be such a huge advantage for pet owners to be able to communicate with their vets, whenever they need to. We can't always get to the vet when we need to, you can't always get in for an appointment. Sometimes, you're not sure should you bring your dog, should you not bring your dog. Is it worth that $100 office fee just to go in and have them tell you it's a rash that's going to go away in a couple of days. Or your dog just pulled a muscle and he just needs to rest for a few days and he'll be fine.

So, telemedicine brings about this way to communicate with your vet for a much cheaper price and to get a little bit of information and advice before actually making that vet visit. I don't think we're quite there yet to that point where we can use telemedicine strictly. And I actually spoke this week with James Andrews who is a veterinarian. And if you remember back in December, I spoke with him about health trackers for dogs. James is the founder of a company called Felcana. The company focuses on pet technology and of course he's also a veterinarian. So, he's got some great insights into the veterinary field but he also runs Felcana which focused on pet technology. Basically, what happened was that he began to become frustrated seeing all these pets coming into his office for treatments for diseases that could have been caught much earlier if pet owners had known the signs, the symptoms to look for.

A lot of times what it comes down to is cost. We love our dogs, and want to take the best care of them. But you know when you're looking at a two three four-hundred-dollar bill and maybe it's something that you can wait. Wait it out and it's going to go away or it's going to get better. Things like that. So, he started to get really frustrated with that and he started Felcana. Of course, they have a pet tracker. Which is what I talked to him about last time; but now he's starting to see telemedicine becoming more important in the veterinary field as well.

So, I wanted to talk to him to get his opinion. As pet owners, should we be using telemedicine right now? Do we need to wait until things are developed a little bit more?  Where does he see this going in the future? And of course, is Felcana going to be part of this? They're a company that we already trust as far as the smart collar – the health tracker that they've developed. Are they going to be a part of this? What should we as parents be looking for? And again, should we be using this technology right now, what should be we be using it for, what kinds of things should we not be using it for? James gave me some great information and I'm excited to share it with you guys so take a listen to the interview.

Interview with James Andrews, DVM

Samantha: [00:03:39] Last time I talked to you we talked mostly about Felcana, and you know different activity trackers and things that are popping up; we're seeing them on the pet market as far as technology. And then today we wanted to talk about telemedicine and how that's kind of growing in popularity as well.

James: [00:03:59] Yes, that's right, I think telemedicine is a really interesting area of veterinary medicine at the moment. Yes, I think there is some new things that are coming unto the market as we speak. That is really interesting and I think there is a lot of opportunity in the next 10 or so years. It's to really transform how people interact with their veterinarians.

Samantha: [00:04:26] Yeah, I agree it seems like right now we're just kind of scratching the surface of telemedicine and I know for humans too. It's kind of just starting to come up that you can contact your healthcare providers for yourself and for your pets, online through apps on smartphones and things like that. So, it's really interesting and I'm excited to see where it's heading in the future.

James: [00:04:49] Yeah, I think now you talk from the human telemedicine world, and I think that veterinarian telemedicine is around 10 years behind and in terms of the sophistication and the technology they are using. And I think the reasons for that one is that pets can't talk, because that would be so much information that you can gather. Like a teleconference with a pet and its owner. So, it's still a very, very embryonic in the vetting world versus the human world.

Samantha: [00:05:29] Yeah, I agree with that; it seems like with everything in the pet industry sort of; we do it as humans first and then we relay that information to our pets. So, it is hard I think. One of the things that I hear the most from pet owners, when their dogs aren't feeling well or if they have any kind of a health issue going on, allergies, things like that, you can't ask questions and get your dog’s answer. They can't tell you how they're feeling. So, it's difficult for you to gather that information to relay through telemedicine but of course as you said you know there's definitely going to be some advancement there in the next decade or so. So, it'll be exciting to see which direction that goes.

James: [00:06:12] Yeah exactly right, and for example: if you're human, you're having a teleconference with your doctor. That it's quite easy to tell your doctor that you've got a headache or you've got a sore knee or you're feeling a bit feverish or whatever your symptoms are. It’s very easy for you to communicate that to your doctor. However, if you're a pet owner, you have to translate what you think is wrong with your dog or your cats and translate that to veterinarian. And that's really hard to do as a pet own because you don't know all the signs and symptoms and clinical examination techniques and the veterinarian does know. And so, it's difficult for your pet owner to give them that enough information over a telephone or over Skype conference to really make telemedicine work well today.

Samantha: [00:07:13] That's an interesting point. For our readers who are pet owners, can you kind of touch on things as a pet owner that you wouldn't… Obviously, there's some serious things that you wouldn't want to even try telemedicine for, and maybe go right to the vet. But some things where telemedicine could really benefit you and save you some time and maybe some money on a visit to the veterinarian?

James: [00:07:39] I think the very obvious benefits for telemedicine and pet owners and veterinarians today is really for repeat visits, or for post-surgical, checkups and things like that where the vet has already examined your cat or dog. They already understand what the problems were that they've now treated. And they want to check in with you so that they can make sure that everything's progressing appropriately. I think that's really the primary use case of the moment for telemedicine. I think over time that will shift away from sort of monitoring and checkups more towards diagnosis as well. But I think we're a little bit away from that today.

Samantha: [00:08:30] Yeah, I know there are some, like I mentioned apps and there are some websites that will allow telemedicine now. Some of those apps will allow you to take photos, share photos with the vet of your dog. It's certainly hard to diagnose anything especially like you said with animals where you can't say all of the symptoms. So, to diagnose through telemedicine is really tricky.

James: [00:08:57] Exactly, exactly. And in some the key is history taking or clinical examination techniques the veterinarian will use in their office. You just can't do over a Skype call. So, like for example, you can't examine a dog's chest with stethoscopes to listen to the dog's lungs or the dog's heart. If you're remote, you can't take the dog's temperature very easily. Yes, you could have a conversation with the pet owners to ask them. They say the dog is hotter and have a fairly subjective based conversation over Skype, but it really is something where it may be inaccurate and very, very judgmental.

So, I think this is what people will see in the future – the solutions to these sorts problems. Solutions to be able to get an accurate remote reading of a dog's temperature or even being able to listen to dog's heart rate using a stethoscope. I think we'll see a lot of solutions; things like connected devices that can monitor your dog's temperature in real time. And feed that back to the telemedicine vet. And when they are having a telemedicine conference with a pet owner they can actually get an accurate reading right then and there. I think eventually we will see solutions to these problems, but it's not something that's available today.

Samantha: [00:10:36] That's interesting because right now you know pretty much
what we have is almost like an instant messenger or like a text messaging service with your vet. That is what we're seeing now. So, you think that we're going to go into maybe a completely separate device that could monitor. I know last time I spoke with you we talked about Felcana and smart collars. And so, what you're thinking is that maybe we're going to see something completely different like a smart collar that could monitor those vital signs and feed that information back to your veterinarian?

James: [00:11:09] I think in the future we will see what we describe is a collision
between technology and biology. Where everything will come together so that we can use connected devices that may be connected to a collar. It may be even an implantable device that sits on the dog or cat skin and those devices will be able to measure biometric data in real time; it can be temperature, it could be blood glucose levels, it could be potassium levels, whatever we can realistically develop and accurately measure. I think we'll end up with technology being able to do that. And then that technology to connect effectively through the cloud. So that veterinarians wherever they are in the world can get that accurate real-time information.

Samantha: [00:12:06] That's exciting. It would certainly be a huge benefit to pet owners if they could have that peace of mind all the time that their pet was being monitored. I know we have a Boxer who has a heart condition, she has diagnosed about two and a half years ago, the heart isn't so out. Wouldn't it be a huge piece of mind for our family if we knew that she was being monitored all that you know around the clock with an implanted device or a smart collar of some kind that would track that for us?

James: [00:12:36] Exactly, it would fantastic for the pet's owner. And it also be
fantastic for veterinarians because they will be able to engage with their patients and that patient's owners on a much more appropriate basis and they wouldn't revolve around the appointment in a veterinarian's office. It can happen whenever it's necessary and wherever that pet owner or veterinarian is in the world. So, I think it's going to be pretty revolutionary for the pet owners and for animal health and the veterinarians. And I think we'll see this start to emerge. Well, we're already seeing it start today. I think it's going to be a good few years before it really all comes together and we do see this collision as we describe it of technology and biology.

Samantha: [00:13:24] So right now for pet owners that maybe are looking to – we have a lot of tech-savvy pet owners now – that want to maybe dip their toes into the telemedicine area. You would recommend pretty much just for dogs that have already been seen by a veterinarian? For either surgery or a treatment for something and using that telemedicine as more of a post-app kind of..?

James: [00:13:52] Absolutely, yeah absolutely. Or alternatively if it's for some advice
which is not particularly urgent. For example, if you wanted to ask your veterinarian if you know if it's appropriate to use a certain worming medication or if it's appropriate to take your dog to a certain part of the world. What diseases you would need to be aware of. For that's sort of travel… then I think that kind of consultation makes a lot of sense to do veterinary telemedicine. But I think if you want to really have a clinical exam which potentially could lead to a diagnosis, today I don't think the technology quite permits it, it will in the future but not quite today.

Samantha: [00:14:43] That's excellent advice, I think you know some pet owners
might think that telemedicine is a great way to not have to take their dog to the vet that all the time or their cat to that all the time. But I guess we really need to educate pet owners that telemedicine isn't something that we can rely on 100% right now.

James: [00:15:02] No, it's a great addition to the portfolio of options to be able to
contact you, veterinarian. It's fantastic communicating but it isn't a solution today to not having to travel to your veterinarian.

Samantha: [00:15:19] The last time that you were with us you talked more about Felcana and we talked about some of the products that you offer. So, I'm going to link that for our readers too so they can listen to that previous podcast if they haven't listened to that already. That'll be there but how are you guys? What's going on now with Felcana that you can tell us about?

James: [00:15:48] Yes, well we're continuing to really build our technology at the
moment. Monte's size continues to grow as well. We've now got two data scientists in house helping us to analyze a lot of the information that we're gathering about dogs and cats and we found that experience at Crufts where we had hundreds and hundreds of pet owners, and dog owners primarily, come in and visit us and talk through our connected caller Micro-location beacon technology. And we had tremendous feedback from pet owners. So, we're just incorporating some of the feedback from Crufts, we're running a beta testing exercise at the moment to make sure our technology was really nice. We're reading those inputs to develop a final product. And so first our product to hit the market will launch in late summer of this year and it's all going very, very well. We are looking to offer new technology to pet’s owners and veterinarians. To ultimately help their dogs and their cats live happier, healthier, longer lives.

Samantha: [00:17:00] Congratulations. That's exciting. Later this summer.

James: [00:17:03] Absolutely, yeah absolutely. It is a long way to go in terms of a
finalizing the product and making sure it is you know absolutely perfect but it’s all progressing very, very nicely. We make the process of also building of funding rounds you know as all new state and as a new start up a business like ourselves required. We need to continue raise funding, so where there having conversations with investors both in the UK and the United States of America at the moment about a future fundraising.

Samantha: [00:17:37] That's very exciting and do you see Felcana in the future
maybe getting into the telemedicine side of technology?

James: [00:17:44] Well, as I said before we think that there is likely a collision of
technology and biology at some point in the future. And Felcana is uniquely positioned because it's the only veteran lead technology company really in the world. And so being part of wherever technology innovation is happening is something that we want to be in. So, we're keeping our eyes closely attached to telemedicine and who knows, watch the space  – it can be the future that we want to make sure we lead in.

Samantha: [00:18:22] I don't know about you but I'm definitely going to be keeping
an eye on telemedicine and see where that heads. I'm excited to hear what James says about the growth and the development of it over the next decade or so. So certainly, something to keep your eye on. But you know again as he said certainly nothing that you want to use 100% of the time right now.

PREVIOUS PODCAST: TOP #20 – What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine for Dogs?

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.