Telemedicine: Keeping Veterinary Dermatology Fear Free in the Time of COVID-19

While the world practices social distancing and self-quarantine, pet owners are spending more time with their pets. The extra cuddle time with animal family members can be beneficial for humans’ physical and emotional health1,2. Spending so much time together also gives pet parents an opportunity to notice when something might be wrong with their dog or cat. One of the most common reasons pets need veterinary attention is skin allergies3 – and all that itching and scratching doesn’t stop just because we’re in lockdown.

Once you identify that your pet’s skin might be a problem, the next step is to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian. For many pets and their owners, vet visits can introduce fear, anxiety, and stress as pets are exposed to unfamiliar environments, faces, and procedures. COVID-19 has made it even more challenging for pet owners and veterinarians to complete a safe and successful vet visit. Thankfully, many veterinarians have embraced telemedicine and are offering virtual appointments for pets with skin issues. Telemedicine allows your pet to be evaluated from the comfort and safety of your home. Your veterinarian can then work with you to determine the most appropriate next course of action to get your pet’s skin under control and give you peace of mind. Here are the things to expect from each step of the process:

Identifying a problem

Many dogs have the occasional itch to scratch. But when the scratching keeps you and your pup up at night, or you notice a change in your dog’s skin such as redness or scabbing, those could be signs that skin allergies are the cause. There are resources available online that can help you recognize signs of skin disease and determine if you should have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian. If you have a concern about your pet, it is always reasonable to get in touch with your veterinarian.

Contacting a veterinarian

The phone call to a veterinary clinic is an important step in getting your pet the help they need. During the call, veterinary staff will gather basic information about the signs you are seeing and concerns you might have. If appropriate, they will then work with you to schedule a telemedicine appointment.

Depending on the clinic, they may use a virtual platform such as Zoom or they may utilize a dedicated veterinary telemedicine service. In most cases, all you will need to have is a mobile device or home computer with a webcam and internet access.

Before your appointment

Your veterinarian will provide instructions on how to prepare for your telemedicine appointment. It can be quite helpful to your vet if you write down some notes about what changes you have noticed in your pet’s skin, when you first noticed those changes, and how things have progressed. It is also important to write down any medications, products such as shampoos, creams, lotions, or home remedies you might have tried. Resources available online at www.apoqueldogs.com and www.cytopoint4dogs.com can help you to write down all your notes and observations in one place for easy reference. Your veterinarian might ask you to send your notes electronically so they can be reviewed before your appointment.

Your veterinarian might also ask you to take some photos of your pet’s skin using a digital camera or smartphone. Try your best to take photos under natural lighting conditions, get a whole body and some close ups, then name the photo file with a short description of what part of the body it captures (for example: Fluffy Jones_Red Skin_Right Front Paw.jpeg). These photos will be valuable during your pet’s evaluation because they allow your veterinarian to see your pet’s skin even though you won’t be in an exam room together.

During your telemedicine appointment

Your telemedicine appointment can be completed anywhere in your home where you and your pet feel comfortable together. This avoids the stress and anxiety that some pets feel during a vet visit and can make it easier to focus on the discussion with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will discuss the history of your pet’s skin changes and your own observations, referring to the notes you have written down. Your veterinarian might ask you to hold the webcam or phone closer to your pet or to point out areas of skin change without causing stress for your pet.

Once you and your veterinarian have had a chance to discuss the case, you will work together to determine a plan. This might involve prescribing a medication and monitoring your pet, or it might be recommended to perform additional diagnostic tests. Certain medications can be shipped to your home, picked up through contactless procedures, or are available via an injection given through curbside drop-off. There are some situations, however, in which a physical visit to the clinic is strongly recommended and your veterinarian will discuss with you how to accomplish that in the safest manner possible.

After your appointment

With skin disease, close monitoring of your pet and diligent communication with your veterinary care team are essential to treatment success. Your veterinarian will provide instructions on what to expect through the course of treatment, indicators of treatment success, and signs that the problem might not be resolving or that additional actions need to be taken. Forms available online, mentioned above in the “Before your visit” section, can be useful while monitoring your pet’s progress. Your veterinarian will schedule a follow-up telemedicine appointment to make sure that your pet is improving. If you have concerns at any point, contact your veterinarian.

COVID-19 has changed the way that many industries operate, but veterinarians are here to help you and your pet through the innovative solution of telemedicine. Through telemedicine your pet’s itchy skin can be evaluated stress-free from the safety of your home, enabling your veterinarian to work with you to get your pet’s skin under control and get everyone back to a comfortable night’s sleep.

References

  1. Levine GN, Allen K, Braun LT, et al. Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013;127(23):2353-63.
  2. Bao KJ, Schreer G. Pets and Happiness: Examining the Association between Pet Ownership and Wellbeing. Anthrozoos. 2016;29(2):283-296.
  3. Nationwide Press Release. Most common medical conditions that prompt veterinary visits. Nationwide. March 14 2018. Retrieved December 30th 2018 from: https://press8.petinsurance.com/articles/2018/march/most-common-medical-conditions-that-prompt-veterinary-visits.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Zoetis Petcare. APQ-01009