I’m willing to bet that my file at the local veterinarian’s office has a label on it declaring me a lunatic. On no fewer than four occasions, they’ve seen me fully sobbing. Once, I called in a nonverbal state; the receptionist actually guessed my issue and scheduled an appointment based on her yes-or-no questions and my emotion-wracked grunts. Another time, it wasn’t even for my pet; I came across a wounded pigeon and delivered the surely doomed bird to them, pleading for help. They gently told me I’d done “a good thing” and could go. I try not to think about what happened after I left.
Life would be easier—and my reputation surely less marred—if there were a way to connect with vets instantly, assess what’s going on with an animal remotely, and appear (sobbing or not) at the physical clinic only when absolutely necessary. As it turns out, there is! If you use telehealth for connecting to a nurse with minor questions or getting prescriptions, you’ll be thrilled to learn it works almost the same way for your beloved pet.
What is pet telehealth all about?
Using pet telehealth has a bunch of benefits: It’s fast, easy, and affordable, plus you can access it outside of standard clinic hours. Joe Spector, founder and CEO of Dutch, points out that this is a solid option for people whose pets get super stressed at in-person vet visits; people in areas with a shortage of veterinarians; or anyone who has trouble getting to a vet’s office. Humans have serious human commitments that can get in the way of accessing speedy care, and pet telehealth could be your answer.
While another benefit of animal telemedicine is that it can give you access to specialists who may not otherwise be available in your area, it is primarily best for cats and dogs. Alas, it probably wouldn’t have done much for my hamster, although you can always log in and ask if any vets with experience around your specific pet are available to consult with you. In addition to mostly being a dogs-and-cats affair, it’s also best used for common issues: “Telehealth is ideal for pets’ everyday physical and behavioral health issues such as anxiety, allergies, diet, and flea and tick issues. [It’s] intended for non-emergency use only. If your pet is in an urgent or life-threatening condition, it is recommended you seek in-person emergency veterinary care immediately,” says Spector.
Of the apps available out there, some have special features (more on that later) but they all generally allow you to consult with a pro about standard healthcare topics using chat and video functions.
The best telehealth apps for your pet
Here are some of the telehealth apps available for pets and what they can do for you and your pet.
Dutch is unique in that its vets can prescribe medications, except for a few states in which that’s not allowed. Licensed vets will work with you to create a treatment plan that could include prescription or non-prescription medication, plus behavioral modification, diet, and other enrichment advice. The meds can even be delivered. You can enroll up to five pets for $11 per month.
Chewy Connect With a Vet
If all you want is an answer to a question one time, consider Chewy Connect With a Vet, a free chat service that will connect you to a veterinarian. (Video calls are free for Autoship customers and $20 for everyone else.) The service is available from 6 a.m. ET to 12 a.m. ET every day. Note that it only works for dogs and cats.
Vetster Plus is a great option for people (like me) who gravitate to “pocket pets” like bunnies and hamsters over dogs and cats. Vetster advertises its vets’ abilities to advise on hamsters, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, rabbits, mice, reptiles, and more. You can pay $74.97 every three months, $179.88 per year, or $55 for a single appointment, and chat with or video call a pro.
Airvet is a pet telehealth service that includes a $3,000 emergency fund, which you can access after 14 days of membership. Once per year, you can use that money on a qualifying emergency for your registered dog or cat at any vet clinic in the U.S. or Canada. If your vet is in the Airvet network, you can use the service to chat with them, but if they’re not, you can chat with another pro. The service costs $35 per month and gets you 24/7 access to calls and chats with vets.