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A Startup Fix for Those Sky-High Vet Bills

Americans spend more than $15 billion per year on animal healthcare. Can a new telemedicine platform help our pets, and our wallets?

Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows the truth: Time spent with Rover, Spot, or Fluffy is priceless.

Their healthcare, less so.

Americans spent an estimated $15 billion on veterinary care in 2014, according to the American Pet Products Association—about $220 per pet. Annual expenditures skyrocket for furry friends who need emergency surgery, to an average $475.

It’s a similar situation in the UK, where the startup PawSquad begins operations this month. On that side of the pond, veterinary visits reach £175 per year, about $275. But what if a pet with the sniffles could see a vet over the Internet—for much less money?

Enter PawSquad’s innovation: pet telemedicine. For £15 (about $23) a pop, PawSquad sets up a 20-minute Internet consultation between dog and cat owners and licensed veterinary professionals. Because PawSquad’s platform is video-enabled, another special someone can get in on the teleconference: the pet herself.

A PawSquad online video chat (courtesy PawSquad

“The [veterinary] system as it stands is cumbersome,” Diwaker Singh, the firm’s chairman and founder, tells Forbes. “If an owner has a problem with a pet, he has to make an appointment—which may [be] one or two days in the future—perhaps take time off work, and then transport the pet to a surgery that may be several miles away.”

If this money-saver sounds too good to be true, that’s perhaps because there is a catch. The startup’s online vets won’t be able to offer official diagnoses or prescribe medicines. But their consultants will provide advice on common pet ailments—obesity, poison triage, and allergies, among others—and will urge pet owners toward brick and mortar veterinary offices when necessary.

Right now, PawSquad’s consulations are only available via desktop, but the firm says it will launch its mobile apps in the fall. If all goes according to plan, the telemedicine services will enroll 100,000 computer-savvy pets and their Brits by the end of the year. And if the firm has success in the UK, Singh says, the Internet vets could go global.

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