If you were surprised by the long wait times the last time you called to schedule a veterinary appointment for your pet, you aren’t alone. The pandemic hit the veterinary industry hard, overloading practices across the country, and resulting in longer wait times. Our team at Leland Veterinary Clinic wants to help you understand what is behind these increased wait times, by detailing the reasons veterinarians are overwhelmed.

#1: Approximately 23 million households welcomed new pets during the pandemic

According to data from an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) poll, close to one in five households acquired a cat or dog since the beginning of the pandemic, which would account for about 23 million American households based on the 2019 United States census. All these new pets need veterinary care, contributing to an increased caseload for veterinarians. In addition, the poll found that the vast majority of these pets were not going anywhere, since 90% of new dog owners and 85% of new cat owners said they weren’t considering rehoming their pets. While the downside is longer wait times, the upside is that many pets found their forever homes.

#2: Pet owners stuck at home recognized health issues

The lockdown forced many people to work from home, which allowed them to enjoy more time with their pet. This extra time playing and snuggling with their pet helped them recognize abnormalities that they likely wouldn’t have noticed if they were at work all day. 

#3: Many pet owners had more money to spend on their pet

Pet owners who stayed at home saved money, since they weren’t buying gas or paying for social events, such as concerts, dinners out, and movie nights. In addition, many pet owners received stimulus payments during the pandemic. The extra money in the bank allowed pet owners to spend more on their pet’s veterinary bills, and they requested procedures they may not have been able to afford previously.

#4: COVID-19 infection has caused staff shortages in the veterinary industry

Working from home isn’t an option for veterinary professionals. The only way to provide appropriate care for pet patients is to show up at the clinic every day, which increases our veterinary professionals’ risk for getting COVID-19. When a veterinary professional is sick, they obviously can’t come to work. In addition, a veterinary professional who is exposed to anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 has to quarantine, so they cannot come to work. 

#5: Burnout has caused staff shortages in the veterinary industry

The veterinary field is a stressful workplace, and veterinary professionals are at higher risk for taking their own lives. A study published in 2019 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found the following:

  • Female veterinarians were 2.4 times as likely as the general United States population to commit suicide 
  • Male veterinarians were 1.6 times more likely 
  • Female veterinary technicians were 2.3 times more likely 
  • Male veterinary technicians were five times more likely 

These numbers are astounding, and the pandemic has done nothing to help our overwhelmed veterinary professionals. A more recent study, whose results were published in November 2021, showed that veterinary professionals experienced higher levels of work exhaustion, distress, lack of enthusiasm, signs of physical and emotional depletion, and feelings of dread when thinking about their work, compared with before the pandemic. To improve their mental health and alleviate stress, many veterinary professionals have chosen to cut back their hours, while others have left their practice, or the field. These issues have contributed to our staff shortages.

#6: Veterinarians have a work backlog

COVID-19 threw everyone a massive curve ball, including the veterinary industry. We couldn’t close our doors, or work from home, which forced us to find ways to safely provide care for our pet patients without endangering our staff or clients. While curbside appointments and extensive disinfecting practices provide the necessary protection, the process is much slower than in-person appointments, and we couldn’t see as many pets per day. This made us postpone routine appointments and elective procedures, to ensure sick and injured pets received the care they needed. We are now faced with addressing these postponed appointments, as well as handling new appointments. 

Having to wait a long time to schedule an appointment for your pet is understandably frustrating, but please know we are working hard to ensure your pet receives the care they deserve. We would appreciate your help in keeping your pet as healthy and happy as possible. Ways you can help our passionate and dedicated team include:

  • Be kind — Frustration can easily lead to insensitive and unkind words. Please be as patient and kind as possible when dealing with our staff. Raised voices and threatening words won’t get your pet seen more quickly.
  • Be prepared — In the past, you could wait until your pet was due for their vaccinations or annual wellness exam, but times have changed. Please call to schedule your pet’s routine appointments as far in advance as possible, to ensure we see them before their vaccine coverage lapses.
  • Be vigilant — Subtle changes, such as not finishing dinner, sleeping more than usual, or snapping when you reach to pet them, can indicate a significant health issue in your pet. Call immediately to schedule an appointment if your pet is exhibiting any abnormal behavior.

Despite the challenges we face, our team at Leland Veterinary Clinic is committed to providing the highest quality care for your pet. Contact us if your pet needs veterinary attention.