Technology had already become an integral part of our daily lives when the COVID-19 pandemic sent our reliance on it into overdrive. From work at home to Zoom meetings to electronic doctor’s appointments and virtual fundraising, remote communication has become the norm.  Not only has this rapid shift affected our lives, it also has affected our pets. Regular preventive care and veterinary visits are vital to ensure your pet remains healthy and by your side for as long as possible. However, it can be difficult right now to visit your veterinarian in person every time you have a question or concern about your pet’s health. Veterinary telemedicine may be a solution for that. Our Boca Midtown Animal Hospital team explains the basics of telemedicine and how to determine if it’s right for your pet.

What is pet telemedicine?

Telemedicine is defined as a tool to exchange medical information electronically from one site to another. It is a type of telehealth, which is a term that describes  all uses of technology to deliver health information or education remotely. Human doctors have been using telemedicine for over 25 years; however, it is a relatively new concept in veterinary medicine. Pet telemedicine may include texting, email, online chats, phone calls, or video conferencing with your veterinarian. Since our pets aren’t able to fully communicate when they are sick or hurting, there are also stricter regulations that govern when telemedicine can be used for veterinary care. Additionally, telemedicine can only be used if you have an established client-patient relationship with your veterinarian, often referred to as a VCPR.

Benefits of pet telemedicine

While pet telemedicine is not appropriate for all medical conditions, it can be a good option if you can’t travel to your pet’s veterinary clinic. For example, if you are home sick and unable to drive when your dog runs out of flea medication, you can use telemedicine to request a prescription refill. Pet telemedicine can also be used for remote triage to help determine if your pet needs immediate care. Other appropriate uses for telemedicine include:

  • Recheck exams for chronic medical conditions
  • Post-surgery checkups
  • Minor gastrointestinal issues, like diarrhea
  • Preliminary triage for skin, eye, and ear conditions
  • Wound assessments
  • Discussion of laboratory test results and treatment plans
  • Behavior questions
  • Nutrition and dietary consultations
  • Hospice care

Limitations of pet telemedicine

Pet telemedicine can only be used if your pet has a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. In most cases, a VCPR means a veterinarian has seen your pet in person during the past year and performed a full physical examination. Without a VCPR, your veterinarian can only provide general advice; they cannot diagnose or prescribe treatment for your pet’s medical problem. Additionally, pet telemedicine is not appropriate for most emergency problems. Telemedicine also limits the amount of information your veterinarian can obtain to evaluate your pet. Limitations include:

  • Your pet’s heart rhythm and lungs sounds cannot be evaluated, so your veterinarian cannot diagnose a heart murmur or pneumonia. In some cases, your veterinarian may teach you to listen to your pet’s heart or check their pulse to determine a heart rate.
  • Oral examinations to diagnose dental disease, including loose or damaged teeth, cannot be performed. 
  • Neurological examinations cannot be performed. 
  • Orthopedic examinations to evaluate broken bones or torn tendons cannot be performed.
  • Diagnostic tests, such as blood work, urine tests, or X-rays cannot be performed.
  • Abdominal examinations to feel for internal masses or pain cannot be performed. 

Preparing for a pet telemedicine appointment

There are some steps you can take before your pet telemedicine appointment to ensure your veterinarian has as much information as possible. First, check with your pet insurance provider before scheduling an appointment because some providers don’t cover telemedicine appointments. Then take photos or videos of anything unusual you see on your pet or if their behavior has changed. For example, take a video of your pet walking if they are limping or moving in an unusual manner. Take a photo of any lump or wound, or if there is a redness or irritation on their skin. Finally, be prepared to answer questions about your pet’s history and current problems. Common questions include:

  • When did you first notice the problem?
  • How long has the problem been going on?
  • Is your pet coughing or sneezing?
  • Is your pet’s appetite normal?
  • When was the last time they urinated or had a bowel movement? 
  • What is your preferred pharmacy?

Call our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital office if you have any questions about pet telemedicine, or to schedule an appointment to establish a VCPR so that telemedicine will be available for your pet.