As 51% of veterinary practices in the United States reduced their operating hours during the pandemic, online vet visits have blossomed as an alternative. They keep you in the room speaking directly with the vet.
There are dozens of customizable online vet visit options, including:
- Video calls and text-based chat
- Subscription plans
- Pet insurance reimbursements
- Varying costs
- DIY emergency funds
Finding the right provider for your needs – and your pet’s best interests – can be overwhelming. We hope to break down the best of the best so you can make an informed decision about whether online vet care is right for you and your pet.
How online veterinary services work
Who is best suited for online vet care?
Limitations of online veterinary care
What to expect from your online veterinary visit
Is online veterinary care here to stay?
Major online veterinary companies
Why you should trust us
How we evaluate televeterinary services
Much like a human telehealth appointment, the goal of online veterinary services is to provide pet health advice from the comfort of your home. The industry predates the COVID-19 pandemic. But with limited appointment availability and an inability to follow Fido into the office during the pandemic, televet services have come into their own.
A midnight trip to the emergency vet for your dog’s sudden lethargy might set you back a few hundred dollars and a night of sleep, which can be frustrating if it is a false alarm. With online vet services, you can reach out to a licensed veterinarian to assess if your situation requires that trip to the vet’s office.
Similarly, considering how many pets hate to go to the vet – and how difficult it can be to schedule an appointment around a busy work schedule – televet services provide a valuable alternative for those who might not otherwise get care.
Most televet services are available in all 50 states and US territories, though that may vary. Some services also serve Canada; the most common states to miss out on the benefits of a televet service are Alaska, Hawaii, and Idaho, so be sure to double-check that your home state has access before signing up for a subscription. Vet licensure works on a state-by-state basis, much like doctors and therapists, so if your state is unavailable within a certain service, keep checking back in case they expand coverage later.
While televet services can only legally offer triage care and general advice, that advice can save you a lot of money. A simple consultation at an emergency vet often runs $100-$150, and the average cost of a televet video call costs $25-$50.
Fee structures and payment methods vary between providers. Some have free chat options with flat fees for calls, some have varying tiers of subscription plans, and some are locked entirely behind monthly or annual paywalls.
There are several avenues that leaders in the televet industry use to connect with you and your pet:
- Text-based chat
- Video calls
The two most common avenues for communication are instant-message-style chats and video calls (available 24/7 or by appointment, depending on the provider).
Pet owners who want a convenient, inexpensive alternative to in-person veterinary appointments are best suited to online vet care. If you consistently need advice about your pet and want answers from a licensed professional, these services may also be a good option.
Televet services immediately stand out from a typical vet visit because of their convenience. You can talk to your vet on your time from your couch, your living room floor, or wherever it is that your pet spends time. A televet appointment eliminates the stress and anxiety that comes from dragging your pet to the car to take them to a vet visit.
While the cost of your visit depends on both the medium and the service you choose, online vet appointments are almost always less expensive than going to see your vet in person.
- The average cost of an online vet call (the more expensive option across the board) is $30.
- An in-person consultation with your local vet runs an average of $50-$250.
- The cost of an in-person emergency vet visit typically starts between $100-$150.
Triage care to identify an emergency is the other primary use of televet services. While an online vet can’t perform emergency services on your pet, a televet appointment can help you decide whether or not that midnight trip to the emergency vet is necessary, saving you time and money.
Many televet services have vets on call 24/7 for your questions and pet care needs. You may find that you can get in touch with a vet through an online platform much easier – and faster – than you will your regular vet, so you can get answers to your time-sensitive questions as you need it.
While an online veterinarian cannot diagnose your pet or prescribe medications unless they have seen your pet in person before, there are still many situations where your pet benefits from a televet appointment. Suppose that you text all of your pet-owning friends about an issue with your pet, and there is no consensus. Instead, you can reach out to a licensed professional through a televet service who delivers advice you know you can trust. Among other things, this advice may cover subjects such as:
- GI problems
- Whether or not your new houseplant is toxic
- Getting a second opinion on something your usual vet brushed off as “not important”
- Preventative care
- Recommendations on the best products for your pet when Google searches prove ineffective
An online vet can only see what you send them in pictures or video; they can’t examine your cat to see if she’s running a fever or see if that new red spot turns white when pressed. Having a high-quality camera and strong WiFi signal is crucial for vet calls to give them the best possible information from pictures and videos of your pet.
All physical testing must be done in an in-person vet’s office, as an online vet cannot draw blood, run X-rays, or turn your dog’s limp leg to see if it is sprained or fractured. If your online vet suspects physical testing is necessary for your pet’s best care, or if there is a new diagnosis, they will refer you to an appropriate veterinary office or hospital.
Online vet services can also not prescribe medications for your pet, even if necessary because of VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient-relationship), the code of ethics established for veterinarians. Based on VCPR standards and many states’ laws:
- A veterinarian must see a pet in person to establish care (including diagnosing and prescribing medications).
- If your pet needs medication, whether a refill or new prescription, you are better off making an appointment with your local vet.
The only exception is if you can see your usual vet through an online platform. In that case, the standard of care has already been established. Otherwise, stick to an in-person visit for medication.
An in-person emergency vet should always treat true emergencies. These include:
- Significant bleeding
- Trauma (like being hit by a car)
- Not being able to move
- Difficulty breathing
- Ingesting toxins
If you’re not sure if your situation is an emergency, an online vet can help you decide if you should go or if it can wait until your next vet appointment. If it is a true emergency, they may be able to point out the best open animal hospital near you.
No matter how you attend your visit, be sure that your pet is nearby. While your pet can’t talk to the vet themselves, having them on camera or next to you is essential so that your vet can see, hear, and observe your pet. If you can’t be present, the person sitting down with the vet should be someone who knows your pet’s normal behavior so that they can explain the problem.
Once you are in the appointment, it will most likely run the same course as an in-person vet visit.
- Go over your pet’s medical history and discuss specific concerns.
- The vet gives you advice or suggestions about the issue.
- The vet may tell you to visit an in-person veterinarian.
- Many televet services include time for follow-ups after the appointment, so ask any questions that come up.
The two most common forms of televet appointments across all services are text-based chats and video calls. Some services offer one or the other, some both, but you will find at least one of the two with every online provider.
Not sure whether to have a chat appointment or a video call? A general rule of thumb is to lean on the side of giving too much information to ensure the best possible care for your pet. Chat may be most appropriate if you have a simple question that could be answered by a Google search or a text to a knowledgeable friend. This includes questions about toxicity (if your puppy got into chocolate) or recommendations (on nutrition, toys, routines, exercise, or similar). Otherwise, conducting the appointment on video can help improve your chances of getting good advice from your vet.
Do your best to make sure your WiFi signal is strong before calling. A blurry or freezing video – or worse, a video that drops out altogether – is not helpful for you or your vet. Likewise, make sure that you’re paying attention to a text-based chat to keep your responses timely. And, like any other vet visit, make sure that you can describe your pet’s medical history and what’s going on with your pet in good detail. This is especially important considering the vet can’t reach out to investigate your pet themselves.
The pandemic isn’t going to last forever. Some pet parents may wonder if online veterinary care will continue to be an option once the pandemic ends. We think online vet care is here to stay based on the history of online vet care and demographic info.
Pet owners seem happy with the efficiency and low costs of online vet care, so while we can’t predict the future, it seems likely that televet services aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. After all, only 40% of pet owners take their pets to the vet once a year or more, so televet opens the opportunity to get more support to the 60% of pets who are not receiving adequate medical care. The bottom line is that more pets can get what they need to live happy, healthy lives through online vet visits.
Online veterinary medicine is an endeavor that began earnestly in the last five years (the oldest service in this model, whiskerDocs, was founded in 2018). The pandemic may not have inspired the industry, but in-person vet visit limitations have made it a more popular choice. Veterinary clinics have to keep vet professionals safe while also caring for pets, which means less direct pet parent interaction. Some pet parents are more hesitant to go in person at all.
In fact, 55% of pet owners are over 50 – an age bracket at higher risk for complications, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 – so it makes sense that people are flocking to safer ways to provide care for their pets.
Also, there are essentially no demographic differences between the people using the internet to help take care of their pets. This includes race, gender, education level, economic status, and other demographics. Online pet care appeals to almost anyone for help with their cats, dogs, and other household pets. When televet care or internet articles prove confusing, most people follow up on any questions by checking with their usual veterinarian.
Some veterinarians are ambivalent about online vet care because of its limitations. For example, you can’t diagnose a pet you’ve never seen, and a picture or video cannot replace seeing the animal in person. No tests occur in televet care, so there are concerns that online vets can’t properly help pets. However, in a talk at the AVMA Virtual Convention in 2021, one veterinarian explained that what vets lose in clinical care through televet services, they “make up for it by not stressing out animals by coming to the veterinary clinic.”
With over a dozen televeterinary services available in 2022 and more starting up every day, you and your pet have plenty of options to choose from. In order to help you find the best online vet service that works for you, your pet, and your budget, we’ve compared six of the best offerings.
AirVet uses your smartphone to connect you with veterinary professionals for consultations about your pet’s general health, nutrition, and behavioral needs 24/7. You can either pay a flat $30 per call with no subscription or subscribe to either of two plans for more depth.
- Unlimited: $19.99/month, including unlimited calls and support with filing pet insurance claims via an online portal
- Unlimited + Wellness: $29.99/month, including the Unlimited plan and reimbursement for in-person veterinary care up to $650 for select services
A licensed vet can discuss your pet’s problems at any time of the day, and a follow-up chat with that same vet stays open for the next 72 hours free of charge.
Not every pet owner has pet insurance, but AirVet goes above and beyond to benefit those who do. If your pet is one of the 3.45 million insured pets in North America, an AirVet subscription may be the best option for you.
As of late 2021, AirVet is video-call exclusive, though there are chat options currently in development for later release. It is one of the only televet services available in all 50 states and Canada. AirVet also has the widest range of creatures they will care for, from cats and dogs to exotics and large animals. However, if you have a chameleon or horse, note that not all Unlimited and Unlimited + Wellness services are available for the more unique pets in your life.
AskVet uses text-based chat and video calls to provide 24/7 care for your pets. There are no free options available through AskVet. However, they have a rich and detailed set of resources and guides on nutrition, behavior, exercise, grooming, and other health concerns available for the general public. There is only one tier for AskVet services, costing $29.99 every month, but there is no additional cost for multiple pets, unlike other platforms. It is easy to sign up for daily alerts, personalized for your pet with things like high pollen count alerts and environmental notifications depending on their medical needs.
There are several significant financial gift incentives for televet clients to use AskVet. First and foremost is AskVet’s Rainy Day Fund, which puts aside $45 per month for you without you having to lift a finger or pay extra. You can have up to $1,000 in the fund, which all goes toward paying for an in-person emergency vet visit. The only caveat is that the emergency visit and use of funds rely on clearance from a veterinary professional within the service, so if you know your pet needs emergency care, give them a quick call before you hop in the car.
An AskVet subscription also comes with a free subscription to PetCareRX, an online prescription, food, and supply store, saving you $99/month. Finally, when you subscribe, they send a welcome gift for your pet (only one per customer, not per pet) at a $100 value, including:
- A tote bag
- An at-home urinalysis test
An AskVet professional can go over the urinalysis test with you to explain the basics of your pet’s health.
This service is available in all 50 states and US territories.
Connect with a Vet by Chewy
Since Chewy has become a household name in pet supply shipments, food delivery, and prescription ordering, it makes sense that they’ve hopped on board the televet trend. Here’s what you can expect from Chewy’s televet services.
- Connect with a Vet is free with unlimited access to text-based chat and video calls.
- They offer near-instant replies in chat to text, photos, and short videos during operating hours.
They are one of the only televet services with specific working hours, so be aware that they are only available from 8 AM to 11 PM Eastern Time. If your pet is known for having midnight emergencies in Seattle or San Francisco, you may be better off working with another service provider.
Video calls from Connect with a Vet are also available within operating hours but note that you need to schedule these appointments. Scheduling is open between 30 minutes and two weeks in advance for a 20-minute call. Both video calls and chat are currently free if you have a Chewy Autoship subscription, so you may already have access to this feature without knowing it.
If you are located in Alaska, Hawaii, or Idaho, you are out of luck – Connect with a Vet is currently unavailable in those states. They will only work with cats and dogs, so exotic pet owners should look elsewhere.
Fuzzy Pet Health
Fuzzy, like Chewy, is as much of a pet supply store as an online vet service. Unlike Chewy, however, Fuzzy is a televet platform first and foremost.
- Both text-based chat and video calls are available on mobile.
- Text-based chat is also available through desktop computers.
- Chat and calls can be used 24/7 with a seven-day free trial.
- After the first seven days, Fuzzy costs $99.99 annually or $24.99 per month.
Fuzzy provides health advice only for your pet dog or cat. If you have a dog or cat, they can also give food recommendations and price-match local companies on food, dental chews, itch relief sprays and shampoos, and flea and tick medications. They also have at-home urine and fecal diagnostic tests, so you can test your cat or dog for a plethora of common illnesses without having to set foot in the vet’s office. All of the food and supplies are available for non-subscribers.
As a bonus, Fuzzy is partnered with Boost Insurance Agency. Insuring your pet through Boost insurance gives you a free subscription to Fuzzy; Fuzzy will then help you to reimburse up to 80% of non-subscription pet care alongside your new insurance plan.
This service is available in all 50 states and US territories.
PetCoach by PetCo
PetCoach is owned and operated by the popular store PetCo. PetCoach’s service is relatively streamlined and well-maintained, operating well on desktop and mobile devices.
- This service is free for PetCo insurance policyholders.
- It offers medical record integration (currently manually, but with automatic coming soon).
- PetCoach works exclusively off of text-based chat.
Medical record integration helps PetCoach go a step above its competitors to ensure that the vets on the other line know your pet’s medical history. The number of pictures you can send through chat depends on the subscription:
- A simple email question with up to one picture with a six-hour response time costs $5 for non-policyholders
- An instant-message-style conversation with multiple photos costs $20.
However, if you don’t want to pay the flat fee, there is an archive of hundreds of questions for the general public to read through and see if someone else has had the same question before.
Currently, PetCoach supports every type of pet, specifically referencing dogs, cats, farm animals, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians, spiders and insects, small animals, exotic pets, and “other.” It is widely available in all 50 states and US territories.
When you use Vetster, you have the budget-conscious opportunity to pick between two levels of care: Vetster Medical and Vetster Wellness. They both connect you with veterinary professionals to help your pet: Vetster Medical with a full veterinarian and Vetster Wellness with a licensed vet technician. They are both equally qualified to care for your pet, but the vet technician will be better suited to help with behavioral, nutritional, or holistic care. If your pet is struggling with itchy ears or an upset stomach, or if you’re trying to decide if a late-night trip to the animal hospital is necessary, Vetster Medical is a better way to go. You can schedule appointments quickly and get seen even faster.
Vetster’s flat-fee model means that you’ll be paying one fee for the entire visit and any necessary follow-ups. These are set by the providers themselves, and a 30-minute appointment typically runs about $30 for Vetster Wellness and $50 for Vetster Medical. (But you can also get 10% off using the code INNERBODY10.)
You can read our full review of Vetster to get more information.
WhiskerDocs set the standard for televeterinary care back in 2018 and continues to be a leading name in the industry. Much like with Chewy’s Connect with a Vet service, you may already have access to whiskerDocs without realizing it since some employers and pet insurance agencies offer a subscription as a benefit.
The website is straightforward, allowing you to get the support you need without too many hurdles. That said, most conversations with veterinary professionals take place through phone, email, and text-based chat, without any option for video calls. They advertise a 30-second average time to connect you with a vet through chat and phone calls, as well as a two-hour response time to emails, with a guaranteed follow-up to your issue within 48 hours.
Pricing varies dramatically between services for whiskerDocs depending on the method of communication, with two different payment pathways:
- Flat-rate for one-off visits
- Unlimited monthly visits
A whiskerDocs monthly subscription costs $16.99 per month or $129.99 annually, making it one of the least expensive unlimited plans available. A monthly subscription only covers one cat or dog; however, an annual subscription unlocks a code for 75% off a yearly plan for another household pet.
If you have a question or concern but know that there is otherwise very little your pet needs for vet care, you can use whiskerDocs at a flat rate without purchasing a monthly subscription. A one-time email costs $4.99, and both text chat and phone calls are $39.99 per session. Keep in mind that you can send pictures and videos in chat, but whiskerDocs does not offer the option for video calls like many other contemporary televet services do.
Finally, whiskerDocs has an easy-access toxin guide available for the general public on their website. You can use it to check if your cat’s nibbling of a houseplant means you need to rush her to the emergency vet without having to pay $39.99 for the confirmation phone call. WhiskerDocs is currently available in all 50 states and US territories.
Over the past two decades, Innerbody Research has helped tens of millions of readers make more informed decisions involving staying healthy and living healthier lifestyles.
We extensively test each health service or product we review. We try our best to give you, our readers, an unbiased exploration of at-home health options, free of marketing jargon or gimmicks. We evaluate products and services based on their adherence to quality, the latest medical evidence and health standards, and a simple question: would we use the product or service ourselves if it weren’t part of our job, and would we recommend it to family and friends?
Additionally, like all health-related content on this website, this review was thoroughly vetted by one or more members of our Medical Review Board for accuracy.
We customize our evaluation criteria depending on the type and nature of the health product or service. For televeterinary services, there are several broad consideration factors, including:
Quality: Are the vets on the service licensed to practice in the US? Are they board-certified in the relevant practice areas? Does the company have a high-quality medical review board with oversight? Are any and all treatment options FDA approved?
Value: Are you getting your money’s worth? Are there any hidden costs or charges? Does the provider offer discounts or free services to our readers? Customer Support: How well does the company or provider help you choose the best treatment? How clearly are your options presented? How well does the company help you understand options and connect you to proper treatment if necessary?
Privacy: Are any and all treatments sent in discreet packaging? Will your data be stored securely? Is messaging secure? Could your data ever be shared without your permission?
Speed: How fast will you receive veterinary attention from the moment you start seeking it? Are medical professionals responsive to your questions and needs when you message them? Are the waiting times stated by the company accurate and consistent?