Chinese veterinarians are advocating for the expansion of digital diagnostic and treatment services as more pet owners are turning to telemedicine amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a virtual summit to mark World Veterinary Day on Saturday, Shen Jianzhong, dean of the college of veterinary medicine at China Agricultural University in Beijing, said many pet hospitals have been forced to close down to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Providing digital health services will be a new requirement for the clinical veterinary industry in the near future, and even now,” he said.
The summit was hosted by French pet food company Royal Canin, in association with the Chinese Veterinary Medical Association and the World Veterinary Association. Since 2000, World Veterinary Day has been celebrated annually on the last Saturday in April.
Nearly 100 million Chinese households now include a pet — up by 44% from 2014 — and the country’s pet market has exceeded 200 billion yuan ($28.2 billion), according to an industry report published in August. The rapid rise in the number of pets has led to an increase in demand for veterinary services.
In 2018, there were 26,500 veterinary clinics in China, twice as many as in 2014. The country’s pet hospital market is predicted to exceed 30 million yuan by 2022, an increase of 13.4 billion yuan from 2017.
Zhou Qi, a veterinarian in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that although his clinic remained open during the peak of the domestic outbreak in February, few customers were coming in with their furry friends.
“They were worried about getting infected, and chose to stay home even when their pets showed unhealthy symptoms,” he said.
So Zhou’s clinic launched an online consultation service to address the needs of his clients, with dozens of anxious pet owners reaching out to him each week. Though the online consultation was free, the pet hospital made money through its online shop, which sells pet food, medicines, and treatment packages.
A survey published in March showed that over 60% of pet health-related inquiries were made via online platforms — including WeChat applets, social media, and veterinary clinics’ online consultation services — amid the pandemic. Nearly 35% of 1,986 respondents said their pets suffered health problems during the outbreak, with gastrointestinal issues, skin diseases, and obesity being the most common complaints.
Pet enterprises have also launched free online consultation services during the pandemic. One such platform, Petform, said it has received nearly 420,000 online visitors since its launch on Jan. 30, with hundreds of pet owners seeking online medical advice.
In 2018, Royal Canin became one of the first companies to launch a digital veterinary services platform called E-Vet — a mobile app that connects pet owners with pet hospitals. The owners can consult with pet experts online in real time and make appointments for examinations, immunizations, and sterilizations, while also getting other pet-related advice.
By April 2020, there were 3,700 pet clinics registered on E-Vet, an increase from 1,131 in 2018. The app has attracted 120,000 pet owners and logged more than 80,000 online consultations, the company said during Saturday’s summit. Royal Canin hopes to recruit 1 million pet owners to its mobile app by the end of the year.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A dog receives medical treatment at a pet hospital in Fuzhou, Fujian province, April 2, 2018. Liu Kegeng/CNS/People Visual)