An Analysis of Cooper Pet Care’s Virtual Consultations
Cooper Pet Care is a leading provider of veterinary telemedicine services in the Netherlands, offering pet owners the convenience of booking one-on-one video consultations with licensed veterinarians from the comfort of their own homes. These consultations cover a wide range of pet-related topics, including general health, diet, behavior, and more. In most cases, the goal of a teleconsultation is to provide veterinary advice to a worried owner – and to assess what further level of veterinary care is required.1
Over a six-month period at the end of 2022, Cooper Pet Care veterinarians conducted a large volume of video and phone consultations, addressing a diverse range of issues. This report aims to provide comprehensive data and information about these consultations, with the goal of gaining insights into the utilization and outcomes of veterinary telemedicine in general.
Veterinary Telemedicine: An Overview
Currently, pet owners facing an issue with their animal companion have limited options available to them. Initially they may turn to online sources of information such as Google, Reddit, or Facebook. These are quick, inexpensive, and easily accessible, but the quality of information obtained can be notoriously questionable2. Alternatively, an owner can schedule an appointment at a veterinary clinic; which provides professional and reliable advice but can be very costly in terms of time and money. Telemedicine aims to bridge the gap between these two options, offering a middle-ground solution.
Cooper Pet Care offers a simple and effective form of veterinary telemedicine, which allows pet owners to schedule an online video consultation with a licensed veterinarian. During the consultation, owners can ask any questions related to their pet’s health and receive professional advice on the issues at hand. To schedule a consultation, pet owners create an account online, provide information about their pet and the issue, and select a date and time for the consultation. They then join the virtual appointment at the specified time, where they can speak with the veterinarian and receive professional advice for whatever the problem may be. After the consultation, the veterinarian’s notes are available for the pet owner to download and review. All Cooper Pet Care veterinarians are fully licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the Netherlands and have a minimum of two years of clinical work experience.
Telemedicine can be particularly beneficial for pet owners residing in rural or remote areas where access to veterinary care may be limited, or for animals that are unable to travel due to illness or injury3.
Example consultation: An owner notices some discoloration on her kitten’s tongue which looks blue. She Googles “my kitten has a blue tongue” – and is met with a host of articles and advice that her kitten is close to death! It is true – if a cat’s tongue is completely blue, this is an extremely serious symptom signifying very low levels of oxygen in the blood. However, the owner thinks her kitten doesn’t seem sick. She doesn’t know quite what to think – her kitten seems well, but advice from the internet is telling her that her kitten is close to death.
So – the owner books a video consultation with Cooper Pet Care, including sending a picture of the kitten and its tongue. A licensed veterinarian is able to look at the picture right away, and can tell immediately that the “blue” discoloration is simply a patch of normal, dark pigmentation on the tongue – totally normal and not a danger at all! Thus – by contacting Cooper Pet Care – the owner has saved the time of travel and waiting in a vet clinic, stress for her kitten with this visit, and the higher cost of a physical consultation.
In addition to video consultations, many telemedicine providers (including Cooper Pet Care) also feature what are known as Symptom Checkers – which function as automated guides to give free, trusted advice to a pet owner in an instant. An owner will choose the symptom which best fits the problem in their pet, and then the Symptom Checker asks a number of standard veterinary follow-up questions. Based on the answers to these questions, the owner will receive a general idea about how serious the problem might be, how quickly they should contact a veterinarian, and advice on what can be done in the meantime. Of course – being automated – a Symptom Checker should only ever function as a guide for general advice. Every case is different, and for specific advice a live veterinarian should always be consulted.
Advantages & Challenges of Veterinary Telemedicine
Telemedicine has its advantages and disadvantages. However, for pet owners, there are several key benefits that may be of particular interest. Three of the major benefits of telemedicine for pet owners are4:
- Time savings – Bringing an animal to a veterinary clinic can be time-consuming, often involving travel and waiting room time. These time savings are even more pronounced for owners living far from the clinic or those with limited mobility options.
- Reduced stress for the animal – For many animals – particularly cats – a trip to the veterinary clinic can be a very stressful event. The travel and time spent at the clinic can trigger fear, anxiety, and aggression. Telemedicine eliminates the need for this type of stress. Additionally, animals in a high state of stress may not show symptoms (such as limping) that they would show at home, making a virtual consultation more beneficial.
- Cost savings – A trip to the veterinary clinic can be costly, particularly if the consultation is outside of normal working hours. In many cases, a virtual consultation may be all that is needed to provide peace of mind and avoid the need for a clinic visit.
However, telemedicine also presents certain challenges. Two of the main challenges in veterinary medicine are5:
- Lack of physical examination – A virtual consultation does not allow for a physical examination, which may limit the ability to make a diagnosis. However, the purpose of a virtual consultation is usually to provide professional veterinary advice on the issue at hand – rather than a specific diagnosis.
- Technical issues – Technical issues such as a poor internet connection or faulty microphone can disrupt a virtual consultation. However, most modern video conferencing software has a backup option, such as the ability to use a normal telephone to call into the virtual consultation.
Telemedicine is not only advantageous for pet owners, but also offers benefits to veterinary clinics that are frequently overbooked. The utilization of telemedicine allows pet owners to address and resolve minor health concerns remotely, thereby freeing up much-needed time and space within the clinic. This not only results in improved convenience for pet owners but also provides a more efficient allocation of resources within the veterinary clinic. By utilizing telemedicine to handle non-urgent cases, veterinary clinics are better equipped to prioritize their attention and resources towards pets that require a more immediate in-person visit with a veterinarian. As a result, telemedicine can play a crucial role in improving the overall operation and flow of veterinary clinics, while also enhancing the quality of care provided to pets.
Approximately 75% of Cooper Pet Care’s user base utilize the service in the Dutch language. Analysis of the devices used to access the service reveals a relatively balanced distribution, with approximately one-third of users utilizing the service on Android devices, one-third on iOS devices, and the remaining one-third accessing it via desktop platforms. The booking of consultations through the service is relatively evenly distributed throughout the day, with no significant variation in the frequency of bookings at different times.
The current species addressable by Cooper Pet Care’s virtual consultations are dogs and cats. Approximately two-thirds of consultations were performed for dogs and one-third for cats. Furthermore, 30% of the animals were within the age range of 0 to 1 year, 50% were between 1 to 7 years, and the remaining 20% were 8 years or older.
The most common reason that pet owners used Cooper Pet Care was for skin-related issues such as allergies and infections. Gastrointestinal issues were also a common reason for using the platform, as pets experience a variety of stomach and intestinal problems that cause (usually mild) bouts of diarrhea and/or vomiting. Orthopedic issues (generally presenting as limping) were also frequently addressed.
These top three reasons were just a few examples of the many conditions and issues that were able to be addressed. Other common topics included inflamed eyes, urinary issues (often in cats) and behavioral problems.
Cooper Pet Care collected data on the outcomes of the video consultations, specifically focusing on whether the issue was likely resolved via the video consultation, or if a standard physical veterinary visit was also required. Outcomes were classified into five categories:
- Vet needed urgently – The recommendation would be for the pet owner to contact a vet clinic as soon as possible, even if standard vet clinics were closed.
- Example: a cat having difficulty breathing. This is a potential emergency, and the cat should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
- Vet needed – The recommendation would be for an owner to contact their own vet clinic to schedule an appointment at the next normally available time.
- Example: a dog has a hot-spot skin lesion that is inflamed and wet. This will very likely require physical attention – but is not an emergency and the owner can visit the veterinary clinic at the next normal time slot.
- Checkup later – The issue does not immediately require a physical vet visit, but it is unlikely to resolve on its own.
- Example: a dog has significant tartar build-up on their teeth. This is a slow process but should have a physical check-up and likely a dental procedure in the future. However, waiting a week or a month is unlikely to make any major changes.
- Monitor – The issue does not immediately require a physical vet visit, and it might resolve on its own. The owner needs to monitor the issue and visit a vet if it gets worse or does not resolve.
- Example: a kitten has had mild diarrhea for 12 hours, but is still active and eating. This is a very common complaint, and most often resolves on its own.
- Unlikely vet needed – The issue is unlikely to require a physical vet visit. The owner must still monitor and reassess should anything change.
- Example: an owner is worried about the appearance of her aging dog’s nails, and if they are too long. After examination via photos and videos, it is found that the nails are of an appropriate length and are showing only normal, age-related changes. No immediate action is necessary.
Data show that in 20% of consultations, it was unlikely that a physical vet visit was needed. Additionally, in 33% of consultations the advice for clients was to monitor their animal at home. These two outcomes highlight the effectiveness of a telemedicine service in addressing minor concerns and providing guidance without the need for an in-person visit.
In 27% of consultations, a checkup at a later date was recommended, which suggests that veterinarians were able to provide effective triage and identify issues that may require follow-up care. A physical vet visit was non-urgently required in 13% of consultations, and a vet visit was required urgently 7% of the time – making it clear that telemedicine does not replace the need for in-person care.
The user feedback for Cooper Pet Care’s virtual consultations was overwhelmingly positive. Publicly available TrustPilot scores of 4.4 and Google Reviews scores of 5.0 are both indicative of the satisfaction of pet owners who have used the service. The convenience of being able to speak to a veterinarian from the comfort of their own home, the instant access with very little waiting time, and the quality and depth of knowledge of the veterinarians were all commonly noted as specific aspects that pet owners particularly appreciated.
These reviews are a testament to the effectiveness and value of a veterinary telemedicine service in addressing various pet-related issues and providing professional advice without the need for an in-person visit. The high level of satisfaction expressed by pet owners confirms that veterinary telemedicine is a highly appreciated tool for pet owners wishing to provide the best possible healthcare for their pets.
The utilization and outcomes of veterinary telemedicine as demonstrated by Cooper Pet Care’s virtual consultations have shown promising results. The data collected over the six-month period highlight the benefits of telemedicine for pet owners via savings in time and cost in combination with a marked reduction in stress for the pet. Additionally, the results show that in many cases a virtual consultation may be all that is needed to address appropriate issues and provide peace of mind for the owner.
Moreover, the feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive, with many praising the ease of accessing the service from their own home, the short wait time for consultations, and the expertise of the veterinarians. This is consistent with other studies which have been done on the subject6.
However, it’s important to note that telemedicine does have its limitations, such as not being able to physically examine the animal and the need for follow-up in-person visits in certain cases. Nevertheless, telemedicine is a valuable additional tool for pet owners – providing a convenient and cost-effective solution that allows them to address a variety of issues, while still being able to refer more serious matters to a physical veterinarian when necessary. As veterinary telemedicine continues to develop and evolve, it has the potential to become an increasingly important aspect of veterinary care, allowing pet owners to quickly receive professional advice and guidance without having to leave the comfort of their homes.
1Gyles, C. (2019). Veterinary telemedicine. The Canadian Veterinary Journal = La Revue Veterinaire Canadienne, 60(2), 119–122.
2Freiman, S. (2019, May 3). Telemedicine from the frontline: A practicing veterinarian’s perspective. Veterinary Practice News.
3Donham, B. & Wickett, M. L. (2018). Novel use of FaceTime video calling in a deployed setting to assist with the care of a military working dog. Canadian Journal of Surgery, 61(6 Suppl 1), S232–S234.
4Lacroix, C. (2017). Telemedicine: From your exam room to their living room. Veterinary Technician, Practice Management, PM94–PM97.
5Limb, M. (2018). Telemedicine: Are we nearly there yet? The Veterinary Record, 182(20), 564–565.
6Bishop, G. T., Evans, B. A., Kyle, K. L. & Kogan, L. R. (2018). Owner satisfaction with use of videoconferencing for recheck examinations following routine surgical sterilization in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 253(9), 1151–1157.