Vets Are Using Telemedicine to Help Care for Your Pets (and Keep You Safe, Too)

My dog is fearless and perpetually curious—and that often gets her into trouble. Normally, I’d consult her veterinarian when she sprains a limb at the dog park or eats something suspect, but I can’t visit the clinic for every minor ailment during the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual visit, known as telemedicine, creates a safer consultation for everyone.

Telemedicine, or rather the overarching term “telehealth,” makes it straightforward and easy to connect with a medical expert over the phone, email, text, or video chat; to get a diagnosis; and to fill a prescription. Although telemedicine is rapidly becoming the norm for us humans—and this year is expected to generate $15.9 billion (subscription required), thanks to services like Amwell, Doctor On Demand, and MDLive—similar offerings for our furry friends have been slow to gain traction.

“In veterinary medicine, we’re a little more hands-on,” admitted Dr. Shelly Zacharias, a practicing veterinarian with 14 years of experience. “The uptake of telemedicine in veterinary medicine is going a little slower than it is in human medicine because those patients … can’t tell us what’s wrong with them.”

Thanks to the new normal of physical distancing, industry leaders say veterinary telemedicine is having a moment. Services like Otto claim sign-ups from vet clinics recently increased sevenfold, and whiskerDocs reports a 15 percent uptick in use, both in just a week. Banfield Pet Hospital’s Vet Chat tool has seen a 60 percent increase in use over a recent two-week period.