Telemedicine has long been available for people, but now it’s available to pets. A new telemedicine vet care plan is being offered in the greater San Francisco Bay Area by Fuzzy Pet Health, a subscription vet care service that offers on-demand vet QandA nationwide.
The telemedicine service, named Fuzzy Pet Health Connect, is available through the Fuzzy Pet Health mobile app. The plan allows customers to text, send pictures, and send videos to their veterinarian at any time to receive real-time help.
Eric Palm, co-founder of Fuzzy Pet Health, says the new service is designed to help save pet owners a trip to the vet. If the problem the pet’s experience requires an in-person visit, the vet will recommend it.
“It turns out that 80% of the time when people think there’s an emergency issue, it’s not actually critical,” Palm said. “We can triage — we can share pictures and videos, and that’s really helpful.”
One area where the telehealth service isn’t as strong as its human counterpart is that most states won’t allow vets to prescribe medications or make a diagnosis over the phone. But laws are beginning to change for the better, Palm said.
“Each state has its own Veterinary Medical Board,” said Palm, “and there are active discussions on most of these boards on how to relax the rules around telemedicine.”
Only Connecticut, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. permit vets to diagnose and prescribe digitally. But Colorado is also offering a similar telehealth vet service.
MyPetDoc is a bot created by veterinarian and entrepreneur Dr. Ed Blach. The bot speaks through pet owners’ Amazon Alexa to offer veterinarian advice using data from 30,000 text conversations between pet owners and their veterinarians.
For now, MyPetDoc is free and is able to address five issues affecting dogs and cats. The issues include eye issues, urinary issues, itching and scratching, vomiting, and diarrhea. Alexa will also ask if you need to speak to a vet if the situation is serious.
In comparison, the Fuzzy Pet Health plan costs up to $10 a month.
“The average pet parent goes to the vet only 1.6 times a year, while our members get in touch with us roughly once a month,” said Fuzzy Pet Health co-founder Dr. Robert Trimble.
The increasing use of telemedicine for animals could give pet owners a greater peace of mind. It can also improve pet care education because pet owners will have unlimited and easy access to pet care.
This is especially handy for pet owners with senior animals, which are recommended to visit the vet at least twice a year.
Fuzzy Pet Health and MyPetDoc aren’t the first startups to go into telemedicine for pets. FirstVet, a Swedish startup, also recently announced that it would begin expanding its operations. The UK has also established PawSquad and Televet.
Unfortunately, many vet-on-demand services like these have failed in the past. This isn’t because the demand for the service is lacking.
The average person carries up to 3,200 bacteria on their hands and indoor air is between two to five times dirtier than outdoor air according to the EPA, two factors that can play a role in many pets’ health.
Rather, many of the services have failed because of the challenge of keeping up with demand in an on-demand service.
“The amount of staffing you need to do that is sort of prohibitive from a unit economics or margin standpoint,” said Palm. “So our on-demand product is telemedicine. That allows us to be much more efficient with scheduling and staffing.”