The benefits of seeing an online vet

Online consultation with veterinarian. Vet examining animal via video chat. Dog check up during quar

'We are able to support chronic cases, such as dogs with arthritis or cats with kidney failure, with ease through online appointments.' - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It was during the first lockdown that veterinary surgeon Natalie Walters realised the overwhelming advantages of online consultations with pet patients.

Now she has co-founded Vet on the Net, which she sees as a complementary service to physical veterinary practices and is eager to explain how it works.

Young man sits on the windowsill, holds a beautiful, fluffy kitten on his lap and reads news on his

Appointments with Vet on the Net take place via video chat, 8 am - 10 pm, seven days a week. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: How can you see a vet online?  

Through a tele or internet service such as I was a vet in practice during lockdown and like many in veterinary medicine was concerned about animal welfare if people couldn’t get to their practices. I also realised that I had clients who were happy to have a telephone or video follow-up consultation but ordinarily wouldn’t have wanted to bring their pet back into the practice: either because their life was hectic, with young children and work, or because their pets didn’t like coming to the vet or were too sick to travel. It became clear we were able to support chronic cases, such as dogs with arthritis or cats with kidney failure, with ease through online appointments. I also found I could get a true sense of what was going on at home by having appointments this way because the patients and the owners were more relaxed.  

Q: How do I talk to a vet online? 

An online service like ours does not replace a physical veterinary practice but works with it. You can still be registered with your own vet but there are situations where you can see an online vet instead of having to go in. If you believe it is an emergency, you should contact your vet. Otherwise, you can book an appointment with one of our experienced vets via our website, for between 8 am and 10 pm, on seven days a week, which means you can see us in the evening or at weekends when you are free. At the moment you can get same-day appointments. You will then be sent a link with access to a video consultation with a first opinion vet. This would be someone trained in all aspects of veterinary medicine. If you have a specific area of concern, we have vets with extra qualifications and experience in areas such as exotics, dermatology and behaviour.  

Natalie Walters, co-founder of Vet on the Net, and her two dogs, Poppy and Groot. 

Natalie Walters, co-founder of Vet on the Net, and her two dogs, Poppy and Groot. - Credit: Vet on the Net

Q: How do I prepare for a video appointment? 

If the appointment is for something like a skin problem or a limp, we will ask to see photos or a video in advance, just in case the pet becomes shy or you can’t find them. During the appointment, we take a thorough history and then either see the patient or ask the owner to check something for us. The vet will then go through everything they have found and discuss a follow-up plan. After the appointment, there will be a follow-up email about the consultation and details will also be sent to the pet’s veterinary practice if they have one. We do have an online pharmacy so many pet medications can be prescribed and delivered directly to the home. 

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Q: How much does an online vet cost?  

With Vet on the Net, a standard consultation with a first opinion vet is £24 (between 8 am and 6 pm, Monday to Saturday) or £32 (after 6 pm, Monday to Saturday, or all day Sunday). A standard consultation with a vet who is particularly qualified in one area is £28. Behaviour appointments take 30 minutes and cost £40. We are more cost-effective than a physical practice because we don’t have the same high overheads.  

Beagle dog female owner caress stroking her pet lying on the back on natural stroking dog on the flo

Vet on the Net can give access to vets with further qualifications to address a specific area of concern. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: What other advantages are there of seeing an online vet? 

In addition to often being less stressful for owners and pets, and offering extended appointment hours, we can give access to those vets with further qualifications. In normal practice, you would probably need a full referral, which can be costly and time-consuming. We can offer triage to help people decide whether a physical consultation is necessary, but it is with the chronic conditions that online veterinary medicine really comes into its own. If a patient is diagnosed with kidney failure or arthritis, we can miss out on little changes because owners don’t want to drag their sick and elderly pets in. But if we can pick up on these online then we can possibly improve the pet’s quality of life and often their length of life.   

Q: What are the benefits to the vets themselves?

Vets are second on the list of professions for mental health and suicide risk. I think a lot of that comes from high expectations of pet owners and our drive to provide a high-quality service at all times of the day and night. We know that something like Vet on the Net will improve the mental health of the profession because it allows a better work-life balance. It could also help to ease the pressure on veterinary practices, particularly at the moment, when managing a physical service is so difficult because of Covid-safety requirements. 

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