Pet owners desperate for appointments with shortage of veterinarians

Dec 7, 2022, 11:26 AM | Updated: Dec 12, 2022, 3:14 pm
Veterinary physician Dr. Brant Hassell (L) shaves fur off of Frankie, a five-year-old Westie dog, to clear a patch for the application of an anesthetic in preparation for a tooth extraction surgery. (Photo by ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Seattle metro area became home to a wave of new pets during the early months of the pandemic, and now, after falling victim to the nationwide trend of understaffed pet hospitals, appointments are becoming near impossible to book.

The country-wide veterinarian shortage came at the worst time — the years following a crippling pandemic. Due to increases in remote work, more than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

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The number of adults in the Seattle metro area who own a cat jumped by 18% in the early months of the pandemic, compared to a 4% jump in dog owners, according to The Seattle Times.

The perfect storm of more clients with less staff has created a nightmare for the field.

“Wait times vary from 1-3 weeks for doctor’s exams, 4-5 months for dental procedures,” said Emily, a client services representative for the Queen Anne Animal Clinic. “Ever since April 2020, it’s been challenging schedule-wise — with decreased availability due to staffing or illness. Not only that, but veterinary ERs keep closing or reducing their hours, which puts more pressure on the general practice. Since COVID, this is the first time I’ve ever seen ERs deny seeing people.”

In reference to the adoption surge, Emily stated that Queen Anne Animal Clinic has seen more clients and patients since 2020 than they’ve ever seen before.

By 2030, the U.S. will need 41,000 additional veterinarians, and an additional 133,000 credentialed vet techs, in order to meet the demand, according to a recent Mars Veterinary Health report. The report also stated, with pet ownership steadily on the rise, a 33% increase in pet healthcare service spending is expected over the next 10 years.

“Veterinarians collectively reported feeling so overworked that it would have taken an estimated 6,291 additional full-time equivalent veterinarians to fully accommodate their net desire to work fewer hours, even if working less entailed decreased compensation,” James Lloyd, Ph.D., wrote in the Mars Veterinary Health report.

The shortage of veterinarians ranges from 3,000 to 5,000, according to James Lloyd, Ph.D., the former dean of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.

“There are several clinics who have wait times of 2-4 weeks for standard care appointments and even further out for new clients looking to be established,” said a representative for Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital.

Despite Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital having daily availability for appointments on most days, the clinic believes this is the hardest time to lock up an appointment.

“There are several clinics who are not taking on new patients due to low staffing and have cut business hours,” Mercer Street’s representative said. “Sadly, quite a few Urgent Care/Emergency clinics in the downtown area are no longer open Fri-Sun.”

Pet hospitals are producing more than enough graduates to replace the approximate 2,000 veterinarians that are retiring each year, according to the Mars Veterinary Health study, but the increased ownership of pets is what’s drowning the industry.

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This added stress has led the veterinarians profession to have a high rate of suicide, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Studies show male veterinarians are 2.1 times as likely as the general U.S. population to kill themselves. Female veterinarians are 3.5 times as likely.

But Washington has a reputation for being very pet and animal-friendly. Washington currently ranks No. 10 as a pet-friendly state, according to SafeWise. New Mexico, Montana, and Connecticut ranked the lowest.

Washington state also boasts two top-30 veterinary programs in the country, with the University of Washington ranking No. 17 and Washington State University ranking No. 26, according to SCImago Institutions Rankings.

If you land an appointment and your pet is anxious at pet hospitals, bring high-value treats and make sure your pet is hungry. If they are not food motivated, see if your vet allows “happy visits” to come by for a quick visit and positive reinforcement.

“It is always a great idea to start taking pets for socialization visits at the vet. We have several clients who bring their pets 2-3 times a week just to come in and say hi to the staff,” the Mercer Street representative said. “That way, when an appointment is needed, there is no hesitation. Many animals require anti-anxiety medication prior to coming in to ensure a more positive experience for both the pet and parent.”

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Pet owners desperate for appointments with shortage of veterinarians