The UK’s 12 million pet owners will be able to get free veterinary advice for the first time today through their smart speakers. The new voice assistant skill — which is available on Alexa and Google Home — uses artificial intelligence to help worried pet owners decide on a next step if their dog or cat is unwell. It has been created by the UK’s leading emergency vets, Vets Now as part of a drive during the coronavirus crisis to make veterinary advice available to everyone without having to leave their pet’s side.
In recent weeks, Vets Now has also launched a video triage consultation service which allows pet owners to speak to a qualified emergency vet on their mobile, tablet or laptop, from the comfort of their home. If their pet needs to be seen at a clinic, they are refunded the £24 consultation fee. More than 500,000 people a month already access veterinary help and advice on the Vets Now website, whether it be to find their nearest emergency vet, to access the huge bank of free vet-authored advice articles or for video vet consultations.
“Our new voice skill is the next step in helping pets and their owners as much as we can during this incredibly difficult time“
Speaking about the new voice skill, which is a first for the UK veterinary profession, head of clinical intelligence at Vets Now, Dave Leicester said: “With many people reluctant or not able to leave their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, we're making veterinary advice accessible to everyone, through as many channels as possible including our website, video vet service, and now smart speakers.
“We fast-tracked our plans for the innovative voice skill in response to Covid-19 as we know how much pet owners are relying on remote veterinary advice just now — we’ve seen a huge spike in calls to our emergency contact centre and the uptake of our new video triage consultation service has been exceptional, with more than 500 video calls from worried pet owners since its launch in April. “Our new voice skill is the next step in helping pets and their owners as much as we can during this incredibly difficult time. It’s a first release of the skill but we will continue to build and add advice to it in the weeks and months ahead.”
The new voice skill allows pet owners to discover common symptoms and find out treatment options for a small number of common illnesses and emergencies via simple voice commands.
For example, users can ask “Alexa, my dog has eaten chocolate, what should I do?” and it will respond with a series of questions about the dog's breed as well as the quantity and type of chocolate eaten. In this situation, the skill will work out whether the pet has eaten a toxic amount and, if it deems the intoxication to be potentially dangerous, it will provide contact details and the address of the nearest emergency vet. The skill also answers some of the most commonly-asked questions on Vets Now's website such as 'what is pancreatitis in dogs?' and 'what are the symptoms of kennel cough?'. All the answers on the skill were provided by senior emergency vets and more information is due to be added over time.
Under the UK government’s coronavirus restrictions, veterinary practices have been designated as essential services and vets have key worker status. However, while clinics and hospitals are allowed to stay open, face-to-face contact has been reduced.
A quarter of all UK households own a smart speaker and reports1 show that almost 50% of those have been using voice apps and voice assistants — like Alexa and Google Home — more since lockdown began.
Sales of chocolate have also increased during lockdown as more of us look to treats for comfort, leaving vets concerned about our canine friends as chocolate can be highly poisonous to dogs.
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