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Whenever there’s an issue with our furry companion, it’s easy to call the vet and book an appointment. Unfortunately, many pets find the vet’s office stressful; other animals, new smells, intrusive procedures. All of these add to the stress of the visit. Also, it used to be easy to call the vet and make an appointment, and many vet offices are now so busy it can take weeks to get an appointment. For pet owners without reliable transportation, finding transportation to and from the vet with an animal is nearly impossible. Many paid driving services prohibit animals in the vehicle. Public transportation often places strict traveling conditions with animals, has limited schedules, and may involve transfers or long distances between destinations. There's an alternative, virtual vets.

Whether you’re hoping to avoid the chaos of the vet’s office or hoping to avoid traveling during terrible weather, an online vet may be a simple solution to your dog’s medical needs. It’s important to remember that an online vet (virtual vets) can not treat every condition virtually. There are specific situations where an online appointment may require an in-person follow-up. 

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What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is not exclusive to pets, and it’s actually an increasingly common method of medical treatment. These virtual appointments are either made over the phone. Or they can be done via webcam, depending on the issue, and allow veterinarians the opportunity to help animals remotely. The pet owner is allowed to speak with virtual vets about any issues their pet may be having. The vet can then assist in making a diagnosis. 

This is perfect for animal owners needing clarification on nutritional needs, parasite control, allergies, or basic health information. It can also help diagnose a potential emergency when a quick assessment is needed before heading to the vet’s office. A true telemedicine service will be able to offer some diagnoses. Prescription services will typically require a prior relationship with the pet before that’s offered. 

How do virtual vets work?

One of the best features of a virtual vet is the real-time connection to a vet without having to leave your home. A pet owner can ask the veterinarian questions or concerns they have, getting direct feedback. Most clinics operate using webcams or telephone services, depending on the inquiry. 

For some pet owners, the opportunity to ask what treatment is recommended becomes invaluable. That’s because emergency vets can charge upwards of $150, even if it’s nothing more than a false alarm. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for a second opinion. This is key, whether it’s an ongoing medical condition or a follow-up to a previous procedure. 

An additional benefit to booking a virtual vet is the home environment component. When a pet is exhibiting symptoms, the vet can quickly scan the home for any potential culprits or concerns. This includes access to toxic or dangerous products, choking hazards, or probable causes to symptoms. It also allows virtual vets direct access to food, supplements, or treats given to the pet. Often pet owners forget to take photographs of the labels before their appointment. 

Preparing for Your Virtual Vets Appointment 

Before your vet appointment, it’s important to write it down. Write any facts, issues, questions, or concerns you may have regarding your pet. By writing it down, you’ll make sure that you don’t forget anything. It’s also a good idea to write down a chronological order of the symptoms your pet has been experiencing. This can include any previous issues they’ve had and any ongoing problems. Be sure to include any new or worsening symptoms. Some online clinics allow you to submit photos and videos. This can save both time and explanations. Try to take high-resolution photos or videos that highlight the isolated problem. During virtual vet exams, the vet will rely on your information exclusively to make a diagnosis. 

You’ll also want to have your pet ready and accessible during the appointment. You’ll want to keep your pet comfortable but available. This is key if there’s a specific spot on the body that you’re calling about. A well-lit room is important for an accurate diagnosis. Make sure you’re able to see your pet and his surroundings throughout the call. 

Can a Virtual Appointment Replace In-Person Check-Ups?

Similar to humans, not every visit can be virtual in the canine world. Without the ability to physically check your pet’s vital signs, you should have all routine checkups be performed in-office. Preventative appointments like check-ups ensure that your pet is in optimal health. Virtual appointments are better suited to urgent or specific questions. 

Some states do not allow telemedicine (prescription or diagnosis) if the pet has not been seen in-person first. This distinction is made clear to the pet parent when booking in states that do not allow telemedicine. If telemedicine is not an option, tele-triage and telehealth can still be offered. In states where telemedicine is allowed, it is still up to the vet's discretion if they feel comfortable prescribing and diagnosing.

It's also important to note that prescription delivery can often be delivered right to your door. Sometimes you can pick up prescriptions from a human pharmacy or vet clinic!

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Top 7 Virtual Vets

Vetster

Allowing clients to connect with veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians, this service offers help to pet owners at expedited speeds. This service is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, from home comfort. Complete their easy-to-use forms, find a vet tech or vet, and book the appointment. Vetster is available through any mobile device, tablet, or computer. This service does provide a diagnosis (depending on the problems) and offers full product delivery to your door. This means any prescriptions your pet requires (based on the diagnosis) can be ordered and shipped to your home.

All appointments start at $50 to help diagnose or prescribe medications, infections, dermatological or gastrointestinal concerns, and more. Some appointments are classified as general health and wellness appointments, which do not allow a diagnosis or prescription service. 

Ask. Vet

If you need a licensed veterinarian, Ask.Vet offers 24/7 availability, using a computer and mobile applications. The US-based company brings an average of 12 years of experience, offering education, guidance, and advice for your pet. This company can help determine whether a pet should be seen urgently and will offer referrals to nearby clinics if needed. The average session is between 15 and 20 minutes and costs $19.95 per visit. Although this virtual clinic can help assess potential problems, it cannot diagnose, prescribe medications, or treat your pet. 

whiskerDocs 

Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whiskerDocs connects pet owners to veterinary telehealth specialists. Speaking with a credential technician or veterinarian takes less than 30 seconds. This does a prompt service for pet owners with questions that need answering. Currently, there are over 6 million pets that have whiskerDocs coverage. This may make them the largest provider of virtual vet services. This virtual vet allows three different contact methods, with phone calls, live chats, and email being offered. 

You can choose an individual service or a monthly or yearly subscription at a discounted rate. Unfortunately, this price is per pet within the home, although you can add additional pets at a 75% discount. 

Fuzzy 

Offering general pet advice and basic triage through live chat, this program is available on their website (with video) or through their iOS or Android Fuzzy app. Fuzzy's veterinary support team is available 24/7 for members. Memberships start at 9.99/mo or 99.99/yr. 

The team behind Fuzzy includes veterinary assistants, technicians, and US-licensed veterinarians. No question is too small; they've heard it all. If the pet has been seen by one of the associated veterinarians in-person, the team can diagnose and prescribe medications. Likewise, Fuzzy also offers pet health supplements and flea and tick preventatives – available for one-time purchases or via monthly subscription. Fuzzy also has a 3-month Pet Care Fundamental Course to equip new pet parents with everything they need to give their pets the healthy and happy life they deserve.

AirVet

If your dog’s veterinarian is in the network, you’ll be able to connect with their office using the AirVet service. You can message your veterinarian and book virtual or curbside appointments using the AirVet app.

AirVet is a 24/7 virtual veterinary service that connects any pet parent with a licensed veterinarian instantly for a video call through their free app. There is no time limit on the call. Follow-ups with the same veterinarian via their in-app chat are free and encouraged for 72 hours after the call. AirVet is perfect for someone who wants a fast answer to a quick question, needs a second opinion, or needs urgent help with a medical issue – like what to do if your dog just ate something potentially poisonous. There is a flat $30 fee for the on-demand calls to their network of over 4,500 veterinarians. AirVet is rated 4.9/5 stars in the app stores and is available for both Android and iOS. Have a veterinarian?

*AirVet is offering our readers a discount. On your first call with AirVet, you'll receive 50% off by using the code TOPDOGTIPS at checkout!

PetCoach

PetCoach is a service offered by Petco, allowing pet owners to connect with veterinarians, nutritionists, trainers, and behavior specialists. Available as strictly a teletriage, you can opt for either a quick question for only $5 or an in-depth consultation for $20. This in-depth consultation with the veterinarian will give you unlimited text messages and photos until your situation is resolved as best it can. 

This service is available 24-hours a day and seven days a week, offering a perfect solution for life’s random circumstances. Whether it relates to behavior, care, health, or nutrition, the qualified vets are capable and willing to help get you the answers you need. PetCoach veterinarians cannot legally diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, provide virtual prescriptions or directly treat pets.

PetDesk

An app designed to help you organize every aspect of your pet’s life, PetDesk works to keep you in charge of all medications, appointments, vaccination records, or prescriptions. It also works to connect you with a vet whenever a problem starts, with their 24/7 care. This app works with vets within the network, offering a comprehensive service to any animal owner wanting to get a leg up on their pet’s health. 

Users can plug and play their next regularly scheduled appointment with their appointment requests functionality, whether your dog needs a booster vaccine or an annual check-up. Likewise, you can receive virtual care and two-way messaging for real-time answers to any pressing questions you may have in between appointments. 

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What signs and symptoms require emergency medical treatment? 

While having a virtual visit with a qualified veterinarian sounds like the easiest option, there are plenty of signs and symptoms that require immediate medical attention in person. If your dog experiences any of the following, please take your dog to an emergency vet.

14 Situations That You'll Need To See A Vet

  1. Inability to pass feces or urinate. This also includes any bleeding from the rectum or blood in the urine. Watch for any obvious pain associated with urination and passing stool, even if other symptoms are absent.
  2. Any bleeding from the nose or mouth, including coughing up blood. 
  3. Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t stop within five minutes. This includes any cut, laceration, bite, or puncture wound. 
  4. Constant gagging or coughing, difficulty breathing, or any signs of choking (this includes choking on a treat or bone). 
  5. All injuries occurring to an animal’s eyes. Many injuries can be reversed if seen promptly by a vet for treatment. 
  6. Unexplained seizures or staggering (the animal appears drunk or off-balance).
  7. Obvious signs of pain or discomfort. 
  8. Extreme, unexplained anxiety (including continuous or constant pacing).
  9. Refusal to drink water for more than 24-hours.
  10. Lameness, inability to apply full weight to joint, inability to move legs, or fractured bones. 
  11. If heat stress or heatstroke can not be alleviated by improving the environment. 
  12. Evidence of eating toxic or dangerous substances (like chemicals, poisonous foods, plants, or insecticides). 
  13. Severe trauma caused by any force.
  14. All forms of unconsciousness.

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In The Case of An Injured Animal

It’s important to remember that an injured animal may act aggressively towards people and loved ones. Make sure to approach your dog slowly and calmly, soothing the dog by calling his name if possible. Kneel toward the dog and assess the situation. If the dog appears aggressive, call for help. Only if the animal is passive can you attempt to create a stretcher for the animal for transportation. 

If possible, contact the emergency vet before transporting the animal. Many clinics have limited capacity, especially after hours. It’s important to speak with the clinic so they can prepare for your arrival whenever possible. This may include having a surgical area prepped for him or having an exam room ready (in the event of poisoning). Always be sure to explain the type of injury (whether a vehicle injury, breathing problem, or seizure, for example) if known. 

When in doubt, it’s always better to have an in-person veterinarian check your pet out in an urgent situation. Although virtual pet services are convenient, it’s important to recognize urgent signs and symptoms requiring prompt medical attention. Although in-person services can cost more money, they can quite literally make the difference between life and death when it's a time-sensitive issue. 

Final Thoughts

Virtual pet services are a fast and efficient way to have medical, health, well-being, or nutrition questions answered. They are normally offered via live chat, email, or virtually through a high-quality camera and microphone. Depending on the services you use, having a qualified medical professional can diagnose and offer prescription medications, saving you time and money long-term.

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