No matter what kind of pet you have, veterinary telemedicine services are a great way to deal with problems that don’t warrant an emergency visit to your local vet. If you’ve ever fallen down a Google rabbit hole trying to figure out if your pet’s actions are normal, you should give a virtual vet visit a try.
With veterinary telemedicine, you talk to a vet over text, phone, or video chat to get real-time advice on what you should do for your pet. It’s not a replacement for regular in-office visits, and most vets on telemedicine services can’t diagnose or prescribe medications for pets they haven’t previously seen in person, but they are able to give helpful advice. The coronavirus pandemic made these teleservices all the more vital, and we think the appeal will last long after the pandemic is over. After trying a number of these services, here’s what we recommend.
If you’ve postponed a visit because of the pandemic, call your vet. It’s likely their clinic is open (if it ever closed). You’ll just have to follow special rules so they can see your pet, like waiting outside the clinic rather than inside and wearing a face mask. Be sure to check out our other pet guides, like the Best Gear for Newly-Adopted Pups and Kittens, Best Cat Toys and Supplies, Best Pet Cameras, and the Best Dog Tech Accessories.
Updated March 2021: We’ve added more services like Chewy and Pawp and updated prices.
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Telemedicine vs. Teletriaging
It’s important to know the distinction between veterinary telemedicine (sometimes called televet) and teletriage. We have recommendations for both.
A vet client-patient relationship (VCPR) is required for a vet to diagnose and prescribe medication, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That means a vet must have seen an animal in person first, usually within a certain number of months before they can diagnose and prescribe medications via a televet service.
Not all vet offices have made the jump to telemedicine, but fortunately, there’s still a lot that can be done if your vet isn’t available on one of these apps. A teletriage service can help you make the decision on whether or not a midnight run to an emergency animal hospital is necessary, or if it can wait until the morning. It’s also useful for those general questions that come with pet ownership that you might usually just Google—Should I bathe my cat? Is that food my dog stole going to make him sick? What’s normal litter box behavior?”
“You can’t prescribe, treat, and diagnose, but you can triage, support, provide guidance and general advice,” says Brandon Werber, CEO and founder of AirVet. “That’s really what people need 99 percent of the time at 11 pm when their vet is closed and their dog is puking.”