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These Vets Make House Calls

Businesses linking dog owners to medical help when they can't get to the vet are growing.

Mary Schwager  |  Mar 18th 2020


Once a common practice, then relegated to the past, service providers coming to your house are making a comeback. For Sharon Festa of South Florida, bringing her two dogs to the veterinarian is nearly impossible. One pooch shakes uncontrollably the moment they walk into the animal hospital. The other yanks her around the waiting room, knocking over displays.

Sharon suffers from fibromyalgia, and her husband, who used to help corral their dogs on vet visits, recently passed away. She worried how she could manage an office visit alone. “I was like, ‘Oh gosh, how am I going to do this?’” Sharon says.

So she called an in-home vet care provider. A veterinarian and vet tech right to Sharon’s home. The team examined her dogs, performed heartworm tests and ordered medication.

“They were here a long time,” Sharon says. “They were extremely thorough. My dogs had no problem at all.”

Photo: Courtesy Dr. Chris Cauble

A growing trend

Businesses linking dog owners to medical help when they can’t get to the vet are growing. Some vets pull up in a mobile clinic offering X-rays and minor surgeries. Others arrive after you book an appointment on an app.

“I think its gaining traction more and more,” says Deirdre Frey, veterinarian and owner of Vet At Your Door.

Dr. Frey spends her days zipping around the Portland, Maine, area examining pets chilling out in their homes.

“It allows you to practice better medicine when you see a pet in a more relaxed state,” she says. “It allows you to talk to their owner more. You form a deeper relationship.”

Veterinarian Chris Cauble, who founded Mobile Vet in Los Angeles, says house calls give him insider insight.

“A senior dog, for example, we get to the house and we notice it’s all hardwood floors,” he says. “The poor guy is trying to walk with hip dysplasia and he’s sliding. I’ll have the owners get carpets or rugs for traction.”

Dr. Cauble even becomes a bit of a detective. “I’ll give a patient prescriptions,” he says. “Three weeks later I’ll follow up and look at the pill bottles. I can tell if they’re giving the dog the medication.”

In-home pet euthanasia is a fast-growing segment of veterinary care.

“No more driving to a clinic with your pet, then driving home without him or her,” Dani McVety, veterinarian and founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice in Tampa, Florida, says. “I truly believe that when the euthanasia experience is peaceful and private, it allows a family to grieve more wholly, heal more fully, and perhaps open their heart and home to another pet more rapidly.”

Service providers on the move

And it’s not only vets making the rounds; we found groomers, trainers and holistic caregivers ready to come to you. Caitlin Isbister runs Pet Acupuncture Works in the Boston, Massachusetts, area and treats animals in their homes. After she evaluates patients and does an initial session, some owners just have her stopover.

“My pet clients sometimes leave their door open for me or give me a key so I can treat their dog or cat while they are at work,” she says. “They update me on their condition beforehand, so I know what to focus on during the acupuncture.”

Virtual help

If you come home one night to find your dog ate brownies and you need medical advice, there are websites and apps that allow you to text or have online chats with vets 24/7 for a fee. Veterinarian Lori Teller, who is on the board of directors for the American Veterinary Medical Association, cautions that virtual vets may only be able to give general advice and may not be able to prescribe medications.

“As far as virtual care, what the veterinarian can and cannot do is often dictated by state and federal regulations,” Dr. Teller says. “In almost all states, the veterinarian will have to have met the client and performed a hands-on exam of the patient to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship in order to provide a diagnosis or treatment plan for the pet.”

Are vet house calls for you?

House calls are perfect for senior pets with health issues, pets with disabilities or extreme anxiety, people with multiple pets or for people who have their own health challenges. As for Sharon, her mind is made up. She’s sticking with house calls from now on.

“It’s so convenient. It was so personal,” she says. “I thought this was going to be very exorbitant, but it wasn’t.”

Top photograph: Courtesy Dr. Deirdre Frey