Mobile Veterinary Service for Dogs and Cats

WebMD answers commonly asked questions about housecall veterinary services for dogs and cats.

By Sandy Ecksteink
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM

Most pets don't like going to the vet. But with some pets, it's open warfare when the carrier comes out. At other times, it might be better to have the vet come to your home, like at the end of your pet's life. The solution to those, and other problems, could be a mobile, or housecall, veterinarian. We talked to Jake Tedaldi, a Boston area housecall veterinarian and author of "What's Wrong with My Dog" to find out what people can expect when they use a mobile veterinarian.

Q: What is a mobile, or housecall, veterinarian? Do they have the same qualifications as a regular veterinarian?

A: Most people are familiar with the concept of a veterinarian traveling around and taking care of animals. I care for primarily small animals -- dogs, cats, and the occasional rabbit or gerbil. People make an appointment and I travel to their homes instead of them coming to me. I'm just like any other veterinarian, with the same qualifications. It's simply a matter of how I choose to practice my craft. Instead of doing it in a hospital, I'm doing it in people's homes.

Q: Can a mobile vet perform all the same tests and procedures as a doctor with an office? Do they provide emergency services?

A: There aren't too many limitations. I can't perform involved surgeries or do x-rays in people's homes, but I can accomplish just about everything else. I can do thorough physical exams, draw blood, give vaccinations. Pretty much everything that can be done in a stationary practice can be accomplished in someone's home, as long as you don't need a sterile area or equipment that can't be carried around.

Many mobile veterinarians provide emergency services, too. If I feel comfortable with the emergency that is presented to me, then yes, I'll go out at all crazy hours of the night to peoples' homes.

Q: Does it help evaluate pets if you can see them in their home environment? Do you see more than one animal in a visit?

A: One of the values of having a mobile practitioner is it's sort of like one stop shopping. We can care for all your animals at one time.

And yes, it helps me to see the pet's habits, the family life, the environment.

Q: If my pet needs care that can't be given at home, what happens?

A: I have an affiliation with a local hospital. I pay them a monthly fee to use their equipment and their surgical staff. I have access to other equipment such as x-rays. But if the pet needs more specialized care than I can provide, I'll refer them to a hospital that can treat the animal.

Q: What are some of the advantages of using a mobile veterinarian?

A: It's a perfect setup if you have a pet that won't be transported, or you can't transport because it's injured or sick. It's also great for the elderly that don't drive, or for working couples with pets at home.

And pets are much more comfortable in their own setting. They aren't stressed by the transport or sitting in a waiting room with other animals.

Q: When it's the end of a pet's life, many people don't like taking their pet to the veterinarian's for that last visit. Will mobile vets come to your home when it's time to euthanize your pet?

A: I think it's one of the most important things I do in my practice. Most veterinarians try to help pets live a long, healthy life. To provide a peaceful, dignified end to that life, I think, is just as important as all the rest. If euthanasia is done in the wrong way, that bad experience will stay with the people for a long time. If it's done right, then they can remember their pet and all the good experiences, without something dreadful at the end.

Q: Will most mobile vets do that even if they haven't seen the pet before?

A: I get many referrals from other vets, because they know I'm comfortable with families in that setting and I've done it for years. I'm willing to do it as long as I'm provided with information that indicates it's the appropriate action to take.

Q: How can owners know when it's time to let their pet go?

A: Most of the time the owner will know when the time is right. If your pet is just slowing down, that's not a time to end its life. But if there's no quality of life left, if a pet is simply enduring life for the sake of getting to the next episode of sleep, the decision is clear. Each pet is different and each owner is different, but something will key you in that now is the right time.

Q: I'm betting cats are easier to treat at home. Can you give me a good cat story?

A: I think cats are more comfortable in their homes. They usually don't enjoy change and travel. I had an emergency call once from two women who were hysterical. They were moving and they swore their cat was sitting in the hall and wouldn't let them or the movers into the house. They said, "We think he's going to kill us."

So I agreed to go over. I place the cat carrier on end, go over to the cat, wiggle my fingers at him, pick him up by the scruff of the neck and put him in the carrier. They all just stood there looking at me, incredulous. The cat was just freaked out by all the strange people in his house.

Q: Do you have an interesting dog story, too?

A: I once cared for a Rottweiler named Shooter that belonged to one of the Boston Celtics players. He was a big Rottweiler and really nice, but like many Rottweilers, he didn't take much he didn't like. He'd give me a warning growl, or back off, if he didn't like what I was doing.

One day I got a call from his boarding facility because the owner was out of town. They said he was pawing at his mouth and it really seemed to be bothering him. So I went over and sat on the floor with him for a while. I told them I was letting Shooter decide what I could do. They said I was nuts, but after about 10 minutes Shooter came over, sat next to me and put his paw on my leg. I thought, "OK, you want me to help you out." So I lifted up one of his lips and I saw that he had a cracked tooth just dangling. Then he walked back across the room and sat down.

He waited about 10 minutes, than he came back and sat next to me again and touched my knee again with his paw. So I reached up with a tool and just pulled the tooth out. Then he walked back to the other side of the room and sat down.

What was interesting to me was that he knew he needed my help and he came to me, let me know what he needed, then let me help him.

Reviewed on September 18, 2009

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