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Telemedicine and teleconsultation for pets: What you need to keep in mind

Telemedicine may be convenient but it has its drawbacks—and the possibility of a misdiagnosis

Make sure the telemedicine service you use has licensed veterinarians.
Make sure the telemedicine service you use has licensed veterinarians. (Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash)

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I wake up to pictures of dog poop and cat vomit on my WhatsApp almost every morning. Pet parents find this the quickest and most convenient option for seeking a professional opinion. “Telemedicine”, which describes the use of technology for remote treatment, has been gathering strength for some time, fuelled further by the covid-19 pandemic.

Devanshi Shah, founder of Petkonnect, an app that offers teleconsultation along with other pet-related services 24 hours a day, first realised the need for this service at the beginning of the lockdown.

Certainly, telemedicine has many benefits, the foremost being convenience. People with pets with mobility limitations or animals that experience anxiety in unfamiliar settings may find this especially helpful. During the lockdown, says Shah, telemedicine helped with late night emergencies as well as basic pet care.

It also might be a more affordable option than conventional in-person treatment. Moreover, telemedicine can save pet owners time and money by preventing needless trips to the vet’s clinic. Shah says it’s a great way for first-time pet parents to understand the basics of raising a healthy pet, for instance—they are able to speak to a veterinarian directly and skip the wait times that come with an in-person visit. It’s certainly a highly useful service for those living in rural or remote areas. “Telemedicine has helped fill the gap where there may be limited access to, or a lack of, 24-hour medical care for pets,” says Shah.

Several telemedicine companies offer consultations with qualified veterinarians, nutritionists or behaviourists to provide assistance to pet owners struggling with problems like separation anxiety, destructive behaviour or nutritional challenges linked to allergies.

But there are drawbacks. For instance, it might be challenging for a veterinarian to provide an accurate diagnosis of some illnesses without a physical examination. The possibility of misdiagnosis exists even if a veterinarian is able to offer advice based on the information given by the pet parent. Besides, pets too are good at masking symptoms of illnesses in their earlier stages, making it even more difficult to reach a conclusive diagnosis purely on the basis of symptoms listed by pet parents.

Remember, too, telemedicine is not meant for emergencies, when it is crucial for a pet to get timely medical care.

If you do opt for telemedicine, keep these dos and don’ts in mind. Make sure the telemedicine service has licensed veterinarians and keeps personal information confidential. Do your research on the founder or company providing the platform to ensure that they are reputed and that your data is not misused. .

Shah says, “Be ready with all the necessary details regarding your pet.” This includes any ongoing treatment, vaccination records and medical history. “Giving your vet as much information as you can, can aid them in making a precise diagnosis. Be thorough when explaining your pet’s symptoms,” she says. Since pets cannot communicate verbally, it is crucial to observe their behaviour and body language.

Shah’s advice to pet parents is that telemedicine should not be used as a replacement for regular veterinarian visits. Your veterinarian can pick up on subtle changes that may go unnoticed during a virtual consultation. If symptoms persist even after a teleconsult, follow up with a visit to the clinic.

So when should pet owners think about telemedicine? It is a great service for situations such as routine check-ups, small cuts, wounds and abrasions, minor diseases and nutrition and behaviour consultations. Pet owners should, however, be mindful of its limitations and remember that for other care, a visit to the clinic may be better.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

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