Online vet services help to alleviate stress caused by COVID surge in pet ownership


TORONTO — COVID-19 brought hardship to much of Canada’s pet industry as kennels sat empty and owners working remotely started walking their own dogs, but demand surged for veterinary services.

With up to 35 per cent of Canadians adding pets during the pandemic and additional safety protocols restricting the number of patients in clinics, vets faced significant challenges, says Dr. Scott Weese, a veterinary internal medicine specialist and professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.

“You have owners that are frustrated because they can’t get in as quickly as they used to and veterinarians that can’t take new clients because they’re so busy with their old ones,” he said in an interview.

Vets adapted by increasingly conferring over the phone and providing curbside service.

A more formal move to online care would further help alleviate some of those pressures, Weese said, because it works well for patient monitoring and can replace normal visits or be used to prepare for an in-clinic visit.

One such service is Vetster. It helps pet owners to avoid lengthy waits to see a vet by hooking up patients online with licenced doctors across North America and in the U.K., 24 hours a day.

Launched after the start of the pandemic, Vetster has seen a meteoric rise in popularity, said co-founder and CEO Mark Bordo.

“It was at the perfect sort of intersection of growth of telemedicine and spike in pet adoption.”

Vets set their own rates and availability, while pet owners can select their preferred doctor. The service can be especially attractive in remote communities.

Melanie Patterson, owner of home dog boarding business Pamper the Pooch, turned to Vetster when one of her furry guests was bleeding with an open wound and several emergency clinics she called said she’d have to wait hours to see a vet because the injury wasn’t lethal.

Within 20 minutes of logging on to Vetster she had an appointment booked and conferred online with a vet who then faxed a prescription to her local drugstore.

“There’s obviously a time and place where a virtual vet appointment will not be useful, but for things like this, for times where it where a virtual appointment is sufficient, it was amazing,” she said.

Still, Weese said there’s a concern certain ailments could be missed unless a vet can actually touch the patient, who can’t communicate how it feels.