Should You Look for a Vet Who Does House Calls?

at home veterinary visits

Story at-a-glance -

  • When pets must travel to the veterinarian, feelings of stress, fear and anxiety are common, all of which can mask disease and injury symptoms
  • Seeing your pet in her own home gives your vet a much more holistic picture of what’s going on with her health, which can lead to a more accurate diagnosis
  • At-home visits mean your pet won’t be exposed to contagious diseases going around a vet’s office
  • At-home care can also allow people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get their pet veterinary care — like seniors who can’t easily get around — a way to get their pet the help they need

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Do you wish your veterinarian made house calls? While it's not common practice among vets who primarily treat companion animals, large-animal vets typically see patients on their own turf. In the latter case, it's a matter of logistics, as transporting livestock, horses and other farm animals can be cumbersome, if not virtually impossible for some owners.

Although most dogs and cats can easily travel by vehicle to a local vet, there's reason to consider an at-home vet visit instead. Your pet is most relaxed in her own home, and it's there that her true symptoms of illness will be most apparent. When pets must travel to the veterinarian, feelings of stress, fear and anxiety are common, all of which can mask disease and injury symptoms.

At-Home Visits Allow Vets to See the Whole Picture

Seeing your pet in her own home gives your vet a much more holistic picture of what's going on with her health, which can mean the difference between catching a health problem before it starts or a misdiagnosis that puts your pet in danger. Lisa Aumiller, head veterinarian and owner of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, wrote in DVM 360:1

"I've … learned as a mobile vet how much more information I can get to help my patients by examining the pet in their own environment. In other words, house calls allow veterinarians to truly examine a pet holistically. During a house call, I'm able to see how the pet greets newcomers and responds to strangers. I can assess a pet's gait by seeing how he moves in his home or around the yard.

I can also examine the pet's environment: how he lives, how the home smells, where and how he's fed, what's in the yard (and note if there is a yard) or litter box. All of this helps me make important recommendations for the pet. Along with factors of physical location, I'm also able to observe other important dynamics, like how the pet interacts with other animals and how the people in the house treat him — all of these can shed light on many issues, particularly behavior."

She describes several cases in which at-home visits gave her vital information to help patients that she wouldn't have had otherwise. One cat, for instance, had already been seen by three conventional veterinarians due to problems with hairballs. Aumiller noticed that the home was filled with smoke and the cat was having an asthma attack as a result. Cats with asthma can't draw a deep breath, but it's not always obvious.

Instead, kitty develops a dry hack that often sounds like gagging or retching, which is why some cats with asthma are initially misdiagnosed with hairballs. In another case, a dog needed to be let out to potty "all night," and Aumiller observed melena, or black tarry stools, in the pet's backyard. Melena can be a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be a side effect of certain medications like carprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug the dog was taking.2

Benefits of Your Vet Coming to You

The extra clues yielded by seeing a pet in her home environment cannot be understated. When watching a pet interact with other pets and people, the reasons for behavioral problems and illness may become apparent, while the vet can provide practical tips to help the entire household.

"There were a few cases that became my initial 'aha!' moments as a mobile veterinarian. These were the instances where I realized how house calls improved my ability to help patients," Aumiller wrote, such as "observing from litter box tours how many cats are actually constipated and how many 'vomiting' cats are fed smorgasbord-style."3

In addition to allowing your vet to see what your pet's daily life is like, at-home visits mean your pet won't be exposed to contagious diseases going around a vet's office. They can also allow people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get their pet veterinary care — like seniors who can't easily get around — a way to get their pet the help they need.

If your pet is severely ill or injured, then a visit to an emergency clinic, which has X-rays, the ability to run blood work and surgical facilities available, is necessary, but for routine check-ups and less-urgent medical attention, at-home visits can be ideal. Some mobile vets even have mobile vet clinics that allow them to do many of the same procedures and diagnostic tests as brick-and-mortar veterinary clinics.

At-Home Hospice Care and Euthanasia

Even if you regularly take your vet to a conventional (non-traveling) vet, you may want to consider at-home visits for end-of-life care, including hospice and euthanasia. Hospice care in your home ensures your pet stays comfortable in her final days in an environment she knows and trusts. Many pet parents find that during hospice, they're able to start accepting the dying process and even grieving for their pet while they're still here, which makes the entire transition easier.

At the end of life, having a mobile vet that offers in-home euthanasia also gives you the ability to have the procedure performed at anytime, 24/7, in case it becomes obvious that disturbing symptoms can no longer be adequately controlled. This saves pet parents from having to make an appointment for the procedure at a time when it may not feel quite right.

Easing Stress in Your Pet if an At-Home Visit Is Not an Option

Mobile veterinary clinics are becoming increasingly common in urban areas, catering to busy clients who prefer the convenience of house calls, however they can still be difficult to find in some areas. At-home care may also be more expensive than conventional veterinary visits. If at-home care is not an option, you can still help to ease some of the stress and anxiety of taking your pet to the vet by seeking out a provider who uses fear-free principles to help your pet stay calm.

To reduce stress in your pet on vet appointment days, you can also use pheromones — Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats, calming nutraceuticals and carrier covers.

Products I use, always in conjunction with behavior modification, include homeopathic aconitum or Hyland's Calms Forte, Bach Rescue Remedy or a Spirit Essences stress or fear blend. Calming nutraceuticals and herbs that I've found helpful include holy basil (tulsi), valerian, l-theanine, rhodiola, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP and chamomile. If it were up to your pet, however, at-home vet visits would likely be the No. 1 choice.

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