You Can Now Video Call A Vet From Your Couch
Aussie pet owners who can't travel to a vet clinic during the coronavirus pandemic can now receive expert advice via a video call from their home, despite vet clinics remaining open as "essential services".
This week, Australia's largest pet care company, Greencross Vets, rolled out a paid, at-home video call service called 'WebVet' that is available across the country.
It's the company's latest initiative to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering a telehealth option to pet owners who are staying close to home.
"For us, there has actually been an unexpected increase in visit numbers because people are noticing problems that may not have been picked up earlier," Dr James Carroll, Greencross Vets' National Operations Manager Specialist and Emergency Centres, told 10 daily.
"The challenge is that some people are unable to get to the vet, which is why we have leveraged a platform to give people an option to get advice via telemedicine."
Carroll said the service is useful for those who are isolated at home, along with those who may be looking for "reassurance" before a visit.
We know that people, often before going to the vet, will do a lot of research or seek out information on what may be occurring with their pet.
"This is a way we can put pet owners and their pet in contact with a vet and allow them to get some expert advice, rather than relying on 'Dr Google'."
But he stressed the service is a starting point and not replacement for a face-to-face consult.
"There are certainly things that you can't detect over a video call or things, like listening to an animal's chest, that we can't replicate -- and we're not trying to," he said.
"What we can do is see the animal, see what the pet owner is talking about and give them reassurance and the right advice.
Australian Veterinarian Association President, Dr Julia Crawford, said people should continue to take their animals to vets as required.
“Vets are classed as essential services, so if animals need vet treatment that can’t be delayed, then people should arrange an appointment with their vet as they normally would,” said Dr Crawford.
“All veterinary practices have implemented protocols to ensure social distancing and good hygiene is adhered to. Many vets can also offer telemedic consultations so this may be an option, depending on the situation."
Greencross Vets runs a network of 167 general practice vet clinics and emergency and referral hospitals across the country, along with 200 Petbarn retail stores.
Carroll said the pandemic has prompted the company to embrace changes to its systems, to protect staff and clients from any health risks.
He said there have been some concerns about the role of pets in COVID-19 transmission, but that vets' understanding of the virus is "still developing".
"There have been some studies where people have experimentally inoculated pets with COVID-19, and the virus itself is able to be re-isolated from those patients and potentially spread among them," he said.
"These are very much experimental studies ... there is nothing to show pets are playing a role in transmission. It's very much a human-to-human disease."
But vets working on the front line are aware that pets who are living with an infected owner may have the virus in their respiratory tract or in their fur.
"We've had to put additional safety measures in place to protect staff and our clients from that risk," Carroll said.