Veterinary care in the U.S. is expensive, particularly if pet owners meet the American Veterinary Association’s pet care standards of two vet visits per year, a full suite of vaccines and flea/tick/parasite medications – which cost a total of about $750 per year. And that is for a healthy animal simply needing wellness visits, preventative medicine and the occasional diagnostic screening.
An ill animal, on the other hand, can be quite a bit more costly to care for.
Which means out of the 200 million or so cats or dogs in the U.S., about half don’t receive any medical are at all, or only minimal care. Moreover, and often worse, noted Fuzzy Co-founder Zubin Bhettay, well-meaning pet owners who can’t afford the skyrocketing costs of vet care for their furry, scaly or winged friends are instead turning to Google as their digital veterinarian. There are good resources out there, he noted, but they are vastly outnumbered by bad ones.
“Pet health advice [today] is either your pet is fine, or your pet is going to spontaneously implode in five minutes,” Bhettay told Crunchbase, noting that neither take is really all that helpful to someone trying to care for a loved pet.
And in 2016, looking at a world where house calls were coming back into vogue in human medicine, Bhettay wondered whether a similar idea could be applied to veterinary medicine to perhaps get those costs under control.
“Fuzzy is changing veterinary care through tech and consumer centricity,” Bhettay said, with the goal of making world-class veterinary care more accessible to all pets and their parents. To that end, Fuzzy rolled out the Pet Health app to provide members with direct digital access to vets at any time of the day or night. The service allows concerned pet owners to reach a certified, vetted veterinarian to get an on-demand diagnosis, prescriptions and product recommendations – all delivered directly to their front door.
The service also offers in-home vet visits, but so far that is limited to the San Francisco Bay area and New York – but the tele veterinary services are available nationwide. Pets don’t like going to veterinary clinics – they find it stressful, particularly if they are uncomfortable. And, apart from being expensive and stressful, Bhettay noted, they are often an unnecessary layer of overhead, adding nothing but cost and discomfort for all involved. About 70 percent of veterinary care being offered in clinics today, he said, can be done just as well or better in-home.
Building a sufficient network of veterinarians to cover an area takes time – but as Fuzzy improves the process of making this option available, the goal is to provide access to as many people as possible.
“With this process down, we aim to be everywhere there are pet parents seeking more accessible and affordable healthcare for their pets,” Bhettay said.
Use of the telehealth platform is free for users, but to gain access to in-home veterinary care, owners must pay for a subscription. It isn’t cheap – $50 a month – but it is fairly comprehensive, including two in-home visits, all medications and all lab work. Bhettay noted that they are working on tweaking that membership formula to be more tiered in the future. Users will still be able to have the most inclusive (and expensive) package, he noted, but because the goal is to make veterinary care accessible to everyone, it will also include thinner packages to ensure that all pets are getting the baseline care they need.
“Which is a great improvement over the current situation, where there are 100 million dogs and cats in the U.S. who are simply getting no care at all,” Bhettay pointed out.
Services like Fuzzy also have the potential to offer a much better career path for veterinarians, he noted. Vets receive as much training as medical doctors, study for as long and spend nearly as much for their degrees. However, they earn far, far less than their MD counterparts, which is not a sustainable model, Bhettay said.
But it is one that he believes will change significantly in the next eight to 10 years, which means the goal is to get in on the ground floor of constructing what will come next.