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Video-link startup helps connect pets to vets

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(Bloomberg Business) — When a beloved pet falls ill, the owner has little choice about what to do next.

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“Even if your pet has a minor issue, you really have no option today but to rush to the vet,” says serial entrepreneur and investor Diwaker Singh. “Even though in more than 30 percent of cases the animal never needs to be there – the vet could address the problem over the phone.”

That’s where Singh believes PawSquad comes in. The startup says that its telemedicine system can help owners get their pets the right level of care, when they need it.

Owners can sign up to have a 20-minute Skype-like video conversation with a vet without the need to put their pet into an animal carrier and transport it to the nearest clinic. The virtual appointments cost 15 pounds ($23), cheaper than a typical visit to a bricks-and-mortar surgery, which can cost 30-40 pounds ($46-62).

Singh, who founded the company five months ago, says that PawSquad will act a first line of defense. “If your pet is not well at the weekend or you have a question about a behavioral problem or vaccination, we can let you speak to a vet as soon as possible. If the animal needs to go to a clinic, we can help make the appointment,” Singh says. Under U.K. law, PawSquad cannot prescribe any medicatio, -unlike the human equivalent services such as ‘doctor in your pocket’ app Babylon. This means the service will be limited to triage and guidance in non-critical care.

PawSquad has a panel of 20 certified vets who offer consultations from 6am to midnight every day. The plan is to build the database following an “Uber concept” to allow vets with spare time to sign up and, after a face-to-face interview and credentials check, earn additional money from home.

“Many vets live in rural areas and don’t get enough work to be fully engaged, while a large number of vets are women with family commitments who want to work but don’t have the opportunity to do so,” Singh explains.

Like Uber, PawSquad comes with a ratings system so users can see how a vet has been reviewed by others, as well as the vet’s qualifications.

Currently PawSquad consultations are only available via a desktop computer, but a mobile app is due to launch in October 2015.

Once the U.K. business is established, Singh plans to take PawSquad to the U.S., where it will compete with a similar service called Vet on Demand-and Scandinavia. The company has already has £900,000 in funding from early-stage investment group Gecad, and plans to raise a larger round next year.

Northstar Ventures’ Investment Manager Dr Alex Buchan, who has invested in animal health start-ups, says that telemedicine has been slow to catch on in the animal care market because it’s so fragmented. However, he says, “people are nuts about their animals” and are already used to paying every time they visit the vet. He remains cautious about PawSquad because, he says, “from my own experience we’ve been able to ring up the vet and have a chat for free anyway.”

Singh counters: “There are nine million dogs, eight million cats and two million rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters in the U.K. If every pet owner was able to make that free call, most surgeries would just be answering calls and vets would be out of business. We are trying to make pet care more accessible, affordable and convenient for everyone.”

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Recently Singh’s took his dog Nero to the vet after being stung by a wasp. “I waited two hours in the surgery before I could get a vet to see him and the treatment was something that I could have easily done at home without having to make that drip. If PawSquad was available to me then, it would have been more convenient and cost effective. Most importantly, Nero would not have had to go through the trauma of going to a vet,” he explains.

He adds that veterinary services are worth three billion pounds($4.6 billion) per year in the United Kingdom alone. “While the world has gone digital and mobile, it’s lagged behind -making it ripe for technology disruption,” he says.

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