May 11, 2020

How Your Pet Is Helping You Through the Pandemic

How Your Pet Is Helping You Through the Pandemic

Survey by Alums’ Veterinary Tech Firm Finds Owners Are Feeling the Love

Longer walks. More lap cuddles. And more chewed-up tennis balls. Pets are gleaning a few perks from the pandemic quarantine—and so are their owners, according to a recent survey from a veterinary tech company run by two Terps.

Baltimore-based VitusVet found that among 1,000 respondents, 52% said they felt more loved and comforted by their pets than usual, 53% played more with their pet at home, and 39% said they took their dog on more walks. (The findings are silent on whether cats are ready for their owners to get back to the office.)

“It’s obvious that now more than ever, pets can serve as a valuable source of connection and comfort for their human companions,” said Dr. Mark Olcott, MBA ’13, one of VitusVet’s co-founders.

It was the first survey of this scope conducted by the company, which provides a digital platform with a mobile app that allows veterinary practices and pet owners to share pet medical records, schedule appointments and send treatment reminders to pet owners, and address affordability with monthly payment plan options. Thousands of practices have joined VitusVet since its 2013 launch, and pet owners are using the app to manage the health of millions of pets.

A 25-year veterinarian with general and emergency practices in Maryland and Northern Virginia, Olcott came to the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s Executive MBA program hoping to solve a problem: There was no way to access the medical records of patients who arrived in his practice’s emergency room after hours. He sometimes had to treat them without knowing potentially life-saving information like pre-existing conditions or active medications.

Olcott met co-founder and future chief technology officer Kalpesh Raval MBA ’13 in an entrepreneurship class. He and Raval, who had a technology and product development background, teamed up for a customer discovery assignment that resulted in VitusVet.

The two went on to win the Pitch Dingman competition, where student entrepreneurs compete for startup funding. With the help of Smith School professors, the two honed their business model and marketing and sales strategy.

“It was a transformational experience for me,” Raval said. “Walking out of that with an actual business that you’re going to start is something that only very few people do.”

The veterinary industry was ripe for change. Unlike human health care providers, which have virtually all transitioned to some degree of online records management and telemedicine, veterinarians are still relying on outdated communication tools like postcards or landline phones to keep in touch with pet owners. Medical records generally aren’t shared digitally, which can be life-threatening to pets in emergencies.

VitusVet’s primary goal is improving the connection between vets and pet owners. Whether that means medication and vaccination reminders or texting real-time updates on pet treatment, better-informed owners means more pets at the vet.

Like digital platforms in other realms, VitusVet is well-positioned to operate in the socially distanced world created by the pandemic. With vet practices doing curbside appointments, vets can text owners updates about a pet’s appointment or photos of what’s happening while they’re waiting in the car. Texting on the app has already increased by 162%.

“I think this COVID situation from a telemedicine perspective—it’s almost pushing the industry at least one, one and half years ahead of the normal times it would go through otherwise,” Raval said.

The survey by VitusVet also highlighted pet owners’ worries about how their animals could be impacted by COVID-19. Olcott and Stephen Wolchinsky, a veterinarian in Laurel, Md., addressed several concerns in a Youtube video.

  • 46% asked if the coronavirus can stick to pet fur. According to Wolchinsky, the odds of picking up the virus from a pet are very low, as the virus tends to die quickly on soft, porous surfaces like fur.
  • 58% expressed concern over their pet catching the virus. Wolchinsky said just a handful of domesticated animals around the world have been infected with mild symptoms of COVID-19, and there have been no known instances of pets transmitting the virus to people.

–By Dan Novak. Republished with permission from Maryland Today.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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