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Veterinary telemedicine offers new option for pet owners

A new online telemedicine platform may help pet parents get information on their animals’ health — but it’s not a cure-all for urgent situations.

With an estimated one million pet adoptions in Canada since the start of the pandemic, veterinarians are working full-time to fulfill their clients’ needs.

Telemedicine could reduce the workload in the clinic, said Dr. Kelly Faubert, an emergency specialist at the Centre Veterinaire Laval, north of Montreal.

“If we get too busy, at one point, we stop seeing level three, four, which are non-urgent emergencies, because we have too many level ones and twos. People have nowhere to go; they have to wait a week, and then they become a one or two and get seen. We don’t want that; we want them to be taken care of.”

The service Vetster offers videocall consultations with a licenced vet in your area. That also means for the first time, vets can work from home, setting their rates and availability on the site.

“We’ve really surfaced an opportunity for veterinarians who’ve been struggling with a lot of challenges,” said Dr. Sarah Machell of Vetster.

For pet owners who don’t want to wait at an emergency clinic, it offers an option, said Faubert.

“It’s kind of nice not to have to get up and go wait six hours to be told it’s not a big deal. A coughing dog that might have kennel cough but is eating, et cetera. He’s contagious, and I don’t want him in hospital. I’d much rather have them call,” she said.

Dorval pet owner Katharine Bernicky said it’s a great option for her and her dog, Angie.

“She eats stuff all the time. So, a videocall would be great if we could get an answer and not have to go into the vet,” said Bernicky.

Pet owner Josh Stelman said he’s curious about animal telemedicine in non-urgent situations with his dog, Maple.

“If it was something minor, something that could be treated over a video, then yes,” he said.

Faubert cautions that a video consult can only do so much, however.

“What we can’t do with telemedicine — it doesn’t replace urgent care, and it doesn’t replace an in-person visit. If your dog has respiratory distress, your cat is open-mouth breathing, if they can’t pee: those are emergencies. We need to see them.”

Online vet visits are not meant to replace in-person care, but to reduce non-urgent visits to the vet, she said.

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