Why video vet appointments are just the ticket for anxious pets

Covid-19 has erased from our lives many things we used to take for granted. From high street shopping to dining out, the pandemic has altered the way we interact with the world, and many social customs may disappear forever. Who would have thought the handshake could go the way of the dodo ? There are, however, upsides to the lockdown . Not only is the tech bringing people “closer” than ever before (am I alone in speaking to relatives on a much more frequent basis these days?), but it could be set to revolutionise the way our pets receive veterinary treatment…

In my case, going to the vets used to involve travelling there by car with assorted pooches strapped into the back. Then, waiting in a packed reception with whining dogs and anxious cats before seeing a very nice vet for a consultation. That spot on my dog’s back had been growing for months, it seemed. Dark thoughts at the back of my mind, convinced me it was the Big C, and poor Sophie, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had only months to live. Of course, in the end, it turned out to an age-related spot.

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I’d often asked myself whether our pets could be treated and triaged with less fuss and anxiety remotely. Many veterinary practices now, including my own, have been forced to do telephone consultations and dispense medicines whilst maintaining social distancing rules. A fairly joyless and fraught experience, in my own opinion.

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Not that many, it seems, are going that extra mile and embracing the full on, increasingly accessible tool of video consultations, zapping at one fell swoop the need for detailed descriptions of the pet’s ailment. After all, a picture, or rather a video, is better than a thousand words.

Step in, the Cat Vet, Dr Jeremy Campbell of The London Cat Clinic who is not simply phlegmatically opting for video consultations as a must, but sees them as a potential portal into the future of veterinary medicine. They could, after all, be positioned somewhere between getting ourselves unduly worked up as an amateur armchair vet to potentially reducing the need for a stressful and potentially unnecessary trip to the vets in the first place. Dr Campbell is one of the growing number of practitioners behind the drive to open up veterinary treatment to those unable, unwilling or too anxiety ridden to jump in the car to see their vet. In these strange times, the practice’s video consultations are pioneering stuff; in the same way that the clinic’s sole focus on felines was a pioneering move when it opened in 2017.

Parrots, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), are the nation’s fourth most popular pet; according to a 2012 survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 3.1 percent of U.S. households owned birds. Some parrots can scream as loud as an ambulance siren. These birds are beautiful, but they’re difficult to care for and require lots of space, so the HSUS doesn’t recommend keeping them as pets at all.

Cat owners can access the video consultations directly via the clinic’s website or else phone the practice for an appointment, which usually lasts 20 minutes. Dr Campbell explains: “The video consultation is not meant to turn anyone into a vet in twenty minutes but to allow us to have a focused conversation about any concerns.”

“They don’t need to have their cat ‘trapped’ in front of a webcam, but they should be nearby and relaxed,” he says. “If we feel we cannot make an assessment via the information provided and ask the pet owner to bring the cat into the clinic as a direct result of the consultation, we will waive the fee of the initial video or phone call. This is to take the pressure off the pet owner to judge which cases can be seen remotely and which ones cannot. This is our job, after all.”

Dr Campbell see video consultations as a ”triage service” to determine if a patient can be assessed remotely or must be seen in the clinic.

“Part of the client-vet bond is that mutual provision of support and if a client feels they can reach out to us to check on a problem particularly if they are unwell or self-isolating then this must be a winner for all involved particularly our loved felines.”

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Dr Campbell predicts that in future, this mode of veterinary consultation could run alongside traditional vet visits for things like routine post-operative checks, weight management and nutritional consultations. “The current crisis is making people more aware of the technology and more comfortable with it.”

His colleague, Dr Serina Filler, agrees: “We have long ‘in-clinic’ appointment times to ensure we get to examine the entire cat and often pick up on subtle changes like heart murmurs or small tumours before the owner has noticed anything being wrong. But follow-ups for already diagnosed conditions could be done remotely to a greater degree – which we have been doing for a lot of our cases via telephone and email all along.”

For anxious pets, video consultations have another advantage: they can remain in the comfort of their own home free of the pokes and prods they associates with a trip to the vets.

Whether coronavirus has opened up a whole new world of veterinary treatment via remote consultations remains to be seen. For now, video consultations are a very useful innovation in our socially distanced times, with the potential to open up veterinary treatment to more patients, and prevent needless anxiety for armchair diagnosticians.

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Marie Carter is the editor and publisher of ‘Pets Magazine’