The Vet Is In

Is Telemedicine For Cats Here To Stay?

Vet clinics across the country are expanding telemedicine options

Sassafras Lowrey  |  Aug 5th 2020


COVID-19 has changed virtually everything about our daily lives, including visiting the vet with our cats. Many clinics have shifted to contactless curbside drop-off visits. While necessary, it’s a stressful approach for both cats and guardians — it’s like handing a toddler off to have an appointment alone with a pediatrician. However, some vet clinics are also expanding telemedicine options, allowing at least portions of a vet visit to take place via Skype or another video conference portal. This is not only more convenient for guardians, but less stressful for cats and although the expansion of telemedicine can be tied to life in the pandemic, for many vets it isn’t just a temporary workaround.

What you need to know about telemedicine visits for your cat

Can your cat really get quality care via a telemedical appointment? In many cases, yes!

“Any appointment that involves a conversation with your veterinarian about your cat’s symptoms could be done via telemedicine,” says Dr. Melanie Puchot, DVM, DACVIM, an Internal Medicine specialist at NorthStar VETS Veterinary Emergency Trauma & Specialty Center in New Jersey.

Unfortunately, Dr. Puchot cautions, some telemedicine visits may lead to in-person visits for a full physical examination depending on the symptoms. And if your cat hasn’t had bloodwork done recently, you may have to bring your cat into the vet for a quick blood draw.

Dr. Puchot says there are three main times when she finds telemedicine may be preferred for cat guardians:

  1. When speaking with a veterinarian about sudden symptoms or injuries to determine whether your cat needs to be seen immediately.
  2.  If it’s a simple conversation about your cat’s ongoing care.
  3. When wearable devices can send the information directly to the veterinarian from the client’s home.

This last example relates to supporting cats with some certain illnesses that need long term management. For instance, according to Dr. Puchot at NorthStar VETS, diabetic cats receive a Freestyle Libre device that continuously monitors blood glucose levels. That data is sent directly to the veterinarian avoiding an in-person visit for the client as well as multiple blood draws for the patient.

Telemedical appointments are also a great opportunity to slow down conversations about treatment options and/or diagnostic results. You can sit down and really hear what your vet is saying, take notes and ask questions in the comfort of your own home and without needing to worry about making sure your cat is calm and comfortable in an exam room.

Limits to cat telemedicine 

As you might expect, not every vet appointment can happen via telemedical appointments. As convenient as it would be to never have to put your cat through the stress of going to a vet clinic, there are appointments that need to happen in person. Vaccines of course must be done at the clinic. Dr. Puchot also cautions that “most conditions require a physical exam or diagnostics such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or urinalysis and still need an in-person visit.” As telemedicine continues to expand in the veterinary industry, pre-appointment telemedicine consultations and other possibilities of virtual evaluations are likely to expand for general wellness visits as well as specialty appointments.

Telemedicine is here to stay

Although COVID-19 led to an increase in veterinary clinics offering telemedicine, there are some benefits to the appointment approach that are likely to continue after the pandemic.

Dr. Puchot says that for her and the team at NorthStar VETS, telemedical appointments are just one modality treatment and are not just a workaround because of COVID, explaining, “Telemedicine is an important facet of the future of veterinary care and will be utilized even after the pandemic.”

If your vet isn’t offering telemedicine, particularly if your cat has ongoing medical conditions that need regular management, it’s worthwhile to have a conversation with your vet to see if this is something that the clinic is exploring, and, if not, it might be worth considering finding a vet who is utilizing this new technology.

Photo: FamVeld / Getty Images

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