If you’ve sought veterinary care during the pandemic, you may have been surprised that your veterinarian’s appointment schedule was booked out for 3-4 weeks for anything routine. If you’ve needed emergency veterinary care, the comparison to pre-pandemic life may have been even more dramatic. Normal wait times of 2-3 hours have ballooned to 6-8 hours, and emergency hospitals often have to stop receiving patients.
The intention of this blog is to explain the complexity of the issue and ask for understanding and forbearance from the pet-owning community.
1. Essential Services Only
During the initial shutdown, veterinarians were not permitted to see routine appointments for a few months; they were only allowed to provide essential services like emergency and urgent care. The backlog of animals needing preventive care is still being worked through and may take some time, considering the other factors, below.
2. Increased Pet Ownership
A survey of 1,231 Canadians indicated that 18% of them had acquired a “pandemic pet” that they would not otherwise have acquired. Though shelter data in the United States does not support the idea of a huge uptick in adoptions during the pandemic, there are other sources for the acquisition of pets, including family members and breeders. Since Canada saw a large increase in the number of pets acquired during the pandemic, the United States likely did, too. If the numbers in the U.S. are similar, and one in five Americans acquired a pandemic pet, that is a lot of additional pets needing veterinary care.
3. Money to Burn
A nationally representative survey conducted by Pew Research of 10,334 U.S. adults indicated that 53% of Americans with upper and middle incomes say they have been spending less money during the pandemic, mainly because their daily activities changed due to coronavirus-related restrictions. Slightly more than half of Americans were not affected financially by the pandemic and may have more money to spend on their pets’ veterinary care. A higher acceptance-of-recommended-treatment rate affects a veterinarian’s appointment schedule as well.
4. Working from Home
The work-from-home population has been around their pets much more frequently. That could mean more time to study Fifi and wonder if she’s always breathed that hard, had that little lump, or appeared to squint her left eye, and call the veterinarian for an appointment to check all of these symptoms.
Working from home could also mean a more flexible work schedule that allows for more frequent walks or runs and more trips to the dog park. More interactive time with our pets is great, but it can also result in more frequent injuries and accidents, and follow-up visits to the veterinarian.
Speaking of that follow-up visit, for most veterinarians, curbside appointments have been the norm since the beginning of the pandemic. With the Delta variant causing so much trouble, many are still operating under curbside protocols, or a curbside/in-person hybrid model of care. Curbside care tends to be more time-consuming and requires more personnel to operate, reducing productivity from pre-COVID models of care.
6. Staffing Shortages
Even though we need more staff, there just aren’t enough veterinary technicians to provide adequate care for the increased caseload. The shortage was an issue prior to the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it. Same goes for veterinarians, especially emergency veterinarians.
There are undoubtedly more factors feeding into the current demand for veterinary services and our current inability to meet it. Please understand that there is nothing that we want to do more than take care of your pets, and smarter people than me are working to resolve these issues. However, none of these are problems with a quick fix, and there does not seem to be an end in sight for the veterinary care boom that we are experiencing. Your veterinary team (and emergency veterinary team) deeply appreciate your understanding during this challenging time!