I think its pretty safe to say that for most of us, vet visits are always expensive , inconvenient and stressful – and I’m not even the one who’s actually sick. Just imagine how your dog or cat feels about them.
My dog visibly trembles and shakes like a leaf whenever we get in a car, as, these days, all our car rides are to the vet.
And back when I had a cat, having to bring him to the clinic weekly to take care of his failing kidneys meant additional logistics and transport expenses as well.
So when I learnt that there was such a thing called “housecall veterinary services”, I was ecstatic.
However, my one experience with veterinary housecall services ended with missed calls and messages that were never returned.
As great as the idea is, I had to give up and resign myself to a lifetime of cab rides to the clinic for something as rudimentary as a vaccination.
As it turns out, my neighbour, who is a veterinary surgeon, has just started a company providing such housecall vet services.
To find out just what it was about, all I had to do was walk over, knock on her door, and ask a few questions.
So I did.
“What is VetPal – Singapore’s First Digital Housecall Veterinary Service?”
According to my neighbour (Dr. Chua Hui Li), her new company Vetpal is a digital housecall veterinary service, made up of a team of experienced vets, who are able to provide comprehensive care in clients’ homes.
Housecall services have two immediate advantages: one, maximum pet comfort; and two, maximum convenience.
Well what about blood tests and so on, I wondered? Would housecall-only vets – with no physical clinic – be able to provide these services?
Turns out, Vetpal has that covered. Dr. Chua assured me that Vetpal actually does have its own laboratory with IDEXX machines (industry-standard lab equipment) to run in-house diagnostics such as haematology (blood & biochemistry) tests, urinalysis, skin diagnostic tests such as fungal cultures, skin scraping, skin and ear cytology, and basic analysis for lumps and bumps.
Having their own blood test machines, says Dr. Chua, enables Vetpal to provide essential blood tests at rates that are competitive with existing vet clinics.
“Ok, so competitive rates, personalised services? Go on...”
But housecall services and custom in-house blood and lab work aren’t the only killer features that her new startup is looking to offer.
Pet-parents can also take advantage of Vetpal’s digital services, which aims to move traditional veterinary care into the information-on-demand age, or as our government calls it, “Smart Nation” territory.
“Digital,” says Dr. Chua, ”means our clients are able to access their pet’s medical history and test results through their Vetpal online account 24/7.”
She stresses, “This is something I feel strongly about, as it allows owners to have a better understanding of their pet’s medical condition and treatment, which in turn helps them to be better caregivers.”
She adds, “In addition, close to 90% of almost 300 pet owners surveyed indicated that they would like access to and ownership of their pet’s health records.”
To help them make better use of these health records, Dr. Chua says Vetpal is also developing digital products to better engage and encourage pet owners to adopt wellness and preventive healthcare plans for their beloved pets.
These ideas have already won recognition locally: Vetpal is the only veterinary service supported by both Enterprise Singapore and NUS Enterprise.
“Why so specific – why only housecalls?”
I soon brought the interview back to the topic closest to our hearts: why make housecalls the core of her new practice?
Dr. Chua says during her 15 years of working as a veterinarian in various vet clinics in Singapore, she often saw cats and dogs coming into the vet clinic that were very anxious and stressed.
“Some animals needed several nurses to restrain them, or sedation for examination and tests. Some simply can’t even be checked at all. These animals behaved the opposite when I visited them at their homes and they were comfortable, less stressed and cooperative - a stark difference from when they were at the vet clinic.”
The same is true for their pet parents as well, she says, who are similarly distressed by vet visits.
All of this is actually unnecessary today, in this age of advanced veterinary care.
“Many of my clients were not aware that general check ups, geriatric healthcare, vaccinations and some basic treatments can actually be provided via home visits,” says Dr. Chua.
And then there’s the inevitable end-of-life care – made unduly stressful by a clinic.
She recalls, “When I started doing housecalls while working in vet clinics, most of my housecalls were home euthanasia requests. These were either requests from the clients, or at my suggestion if they desired a more private sending off.“
“Over time, I started getting referrals from friends or clients, who knew of people who couldn’t find a vet to come to their home.”
“I realised that these clients found it difficult to find a vet to come as housecall services are traditionally provided by vet clinics, and their vets are not always available due to work schedule conflicts.”
“Why now? How did Vetpal come about?”
Dr. Chua says she was introduced to her business partner this year, who had previously worked in the medical device industry.
“The (human) healthcare industry has seen a boom in digital solutions to improve access to healthcare and patient outcomes. Trips to the veterinary clinic made my partner realize that the same solutions could be incorporated in the veterinary space, thereby giving the animal health industry a much needed tech-boost.”
“These reasons led us to start Vetpal - to make veterinary care more accessible, comfortable and convenient with the aid of digital solutions.”
“Finally, starting Vetpal allows me to set time aside to help shelter and street animals at costs that I can control. This is one of the ways Vetpal gives back to society.”
“What services can Vetpal provide?”
Dr. Chua says Vetpal’s services include but are not limited to:
- General health/wellness check ups for all ages (puppies to senior animals)
- Vaccinations (puppy vaccinations, annual vaccinations, rabies vaccinations, canine influenza virus vaccinations)
- Microchipping and registration
- Export blood tests and preventative treatments that are needed as well as the final export health certification for most countries (Japan, UK, Europe, Australia, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong)
- Consultations for medical problems such as vomiting, diarrhoea, skin problems, anorexia/inappetance, lumps on animals
- Diagnostic tests such as blood tests, urinalysis, fecal analysis and skin tests
- Blood collection and running the blood tests only without vet consultation
- Geriatric health care services such as review check ups and blood tests for chronic diseases such as CKD, diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, arthritis
- Medical treatment for chronic diseases such as subcutaneous fluid administration, cartrophen injections, blood pressure checks
- Medical management of diabetic patients with blood glucose monitoring/ blood glucose curves done at home
- Simple wound management/treatments
- Provision of prescription diets and medications delivered to your doorstep
- Second opinions
- Follow ups after initial consultation
- Emergency triage and transportation of the pet to an emergency clinic
- End of life service and arrangement of cremation
- Home based abdominal ultrasonography (to be launched at a later date)
“Ok, that’s comprehensive. Now what can’t Vetpal do?”
There are of course limitations to any home based veterinary service. She says, “Vetpal may not be able to:
- Perform certain emergency treatments
- Perform surgeries and dentals at home
- Take Xrays at home (but can arrange for Xrays to be done at a veterinary clinic)
- Provide full grooming services (but we can help you clip the nails, clean the ears and do certain simple shaving of the fur)
- Pets who cannot be handled by their owners at home but are cooperative at the vet clinic instead (Yes such animals do exist!) are better to be seen at a vet clinic rather than us struggling to handle them at home
- For pets requiring hospitalisation for treatment after consultation, we will refer you to a veterinary clinic for further treatment.”
Dr. Chua says they are not currently able to provide TCM treatments but can offer referrals if needed.
They are also not able to treat birds or exotic pets (referrals can be offered if needed).
Hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits are ok though!
“What’s it like to ask Vetpal for a house visit?”
Dr. Chua says you should call, message them or visit their website for an appointment first.
She clarifies, “We will call you back within the day and advise you appropriately if we are able to help you or whether you should go to a vet clinic instead.”
“We will be able to assist you with transportation if you require it to bring your pet to the clinic.”
If your pet is suitable for a housecall, “an appointment will be made based on our availability and also at a time convenient to you. Urgent cases will be attended to ASAP.”
“After that, all you need to do is to sit back and wait for us to come to you.”
She adds that samples needed for diagnostic tests will be taken and brought back to their lab, after which they will contact you with the results and a further discussion of your pet’s treatment plan.
Medications and prescription diets if required will either be prescribed during the house visit, or delivered to you subsequently at no additional cost.
“Who is Vetpal best suited for?”
Pet owners who have busy lifestyles and those who prioritize their time and convenience would benefit most from Vetpal's services, says Dr. Chua, and adds, “We bring the clinic to you! How much easier can that be?”
So that’s everybody, basically.
But she notes that housecall services are especially suitable for pet owners who have:
- Pets who are difficult to transport due to size or physical weakness
- Pets with mobility issues or disabilities
- Pets that experience clinical anxiety
- Multiple pets
- Pets with chronic health issues
- Poor access to transport
- Sick pets requiring palliative care or end of life services
- Price conscious pet owners may also benefit from their service.
“Everything sounds great! But er… What will all this convenience and digital services cost me?”
That last point brought me to an important, or perhaps *the* most important question: with bleeding-edge digital data services and unbeatable convenience, what would it cost to engage Vetpal?
Fortunately, not an arm or a leg.
Says Dr. Chua, “Our operational costs are kept low as we do not need to pay for a clinic space - we’d rather pass on these savings to our clients. We’re confident most of our services will be cheaper than that of a regular clinic.”
“Our house call consultations are priced at $99 for a consultation up to 1 hour. This is already inclusive of our transport to you! Most clinics’ consultation charges are already upwards of $38 for a 15 to 30 minute consultation.”
It gets even more worth it if you have more than one pet.
“Additional pets are charged at $60 per pet. We typically spend up to an hour to check your pet and then carefully discuss their medical conditions with you and address any concerns you might have.”
“Consultations exceeding 1 hour may have an additional charge of $25/15mins on a case to case basis. An additional transport fee of $10-30 may be charged depending on the location."
And finally, “Vetpal will travel to all parts of Singapore, including Sentosa!”
Do note however, that medications and diagnostic tests are additional to the housecall consultation fees. Check their website for their price list or give them a call to enquire.
“Hold on, wait, you mentioned Vetpal is also about giving back to society?”
Dr. Chua says animal welfare groups and caretakers of street animals will be given special heavily discounted rates for veterinary services and vaccinations.
So if you’re from an animal welfare group or caretaker for a stray, do check directly with Vetpal for special rates.
“Ok, that’s everything. Oh, one last one: when does Vetpal start?”
“For now, you can contact us at +65 8588 8954 for any enquiries or to make advance bookings.”
“We look forward to meeting you and your pet!”
Reminder: save that number!
If you think you'll need Vetpal services soon, why not go ahead and add that number above to your speed dial?
Even if you don't have an immediate need for Vetpal services, I think you should still save it in your address book right away.
That's because vets who specialise in housecalls are - quite literally - really hard to come by.
And you never know when you'll need one.