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Coronavirus Diary: First Vet

How the pandemic changed has my day to day experience of working with pets?

I work for FirstVet, a video-based veterinary consultation service that was first launched in the UK in April 2019. During the pandemic FirstVet has seen a marked increase in the demand for remote consults (in fact, demand for the service has increased 20% week on week during the pandemic, and is continuing to grow as pet owners shift to remote advice).

Owners have typically been spending a lot more time than usual with their pets. Both pets and their owners have enjoyed this extra time! I love seeing owners and their pets on the video call. While most vets have not been able to see pets in clinics, we have wanted to continue helping pet owners who have been in lockdown.

Owners have benefitted from professional advice whilst at home and in a relaxed environment. Our vets have also been able to confirm with owners when they have definitely needed to visit a vet clinic, when they have also been concerned for their health and that of their family. To help those in need during the pandemic we made our video consultations available for free five hours a day, for six weeks, together with our insurance partners.

Naturally, I’ve been incredibly busy during the past few months; however, it is the engagement with pet owners that really make my day. One such example comes from Sam, who was worried about their cat, Poppy. They were unsure what to do, since it was a sunday. Then they discovered FirstVet. Within an hour they’d had a veterinary consultation and their minds were put at rest. They made a point of saying how much comfort being able to contact us at such short notice brought, especially given the wider climate. 

This kind of story has been echoed by numerous pet owners across the UK during the pandemic. Owners I have spoken to have found the pandemic very stressful for many reasons. Not only have they been concerned for their own health and wellbeing, but also for that of their beloved pet. It has also been nice to do consultations with owners from the relaxed environment of their own home. 

I have spoken to owners who have been unable to leave the house, or those who are shielding themselves or their family. I felt able to make a small contribution to the pandemic situation by being able to offer pet owners direct access to veterinary advice, instead of them having to rely on an internet search. Often, owners needed professional guidance and reassurance, for example, about a small wound, or a skin infection. However, I have also seen pets that needed emergency treatment during the pandemic.

The Government’s measures changed week to week, and the veterinary industry (namely the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and British Veterinary Association (BVA)) worked together extremely well to keep services accessible for animals in need. Pets don’t know about weekends, Bank Holidays, or pandemics, for that matter. For these cases, I have been able to help owners to locate their nearest open clinic, and provided them with up to date information about the social distancing and safety measures to expect on arrival. This has ensured that animal welfare has remained at the heart of our FirstVet service, so that animals have been able to receive treatment wherever necessary.

It is also extremely beneficial for me to see a pet in its own relaxed state, rather than stressed in the clinic waiting room; I am able to get a much more accurate impression of how the pet is really feeling and behaving. For example, it can be difficult to take a resting respiratory rate in a consulting room, due to the dog’s excitement and adrenaline. Adrenaline causes the heart rate and breathing rate to be higher than it should be. However, when the pet is relaxed at home on camera, I can record an accurate resting heart rate, which helps me to gain a more accurate understanding of the case and provide better advice to the owner.

As we slowly emerge from lockdown, it is perhaps natural that we turn our thoughts to what this increased demand for video-based solutions mean for the medical profession, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented an exciting opportunity to find new ways of connecting pet owners with a vet. Pet health concerns and emergencies can crop up at any time. Therefore, at a time when owners have been unable to visit their physical vet clinic for routine appointments, it has been essential that they have felt fully supported. Rather than owners reaching for Google, it has been great to see so many owners booking consultations with our FirstVet vets when they have needed advice for their pets.

Vets have also learned a lot about new ways of working. At the centre of these new approaches is always our patients. Vets have already seen some of the benefits, and how they will continue to help pets and their owners in the future. Being able to test different methods will enable the vet industry to provide a more comprehensive service. This will help the industry to grow and develop.

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