If your pet has needed veterinary attention recently, you may have been surprised at how long you had to wait for an appointment. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the veterinary community to face issues, including an increased patient load, staff shortages, and time-consuming safety protocols, which have led to pet owners finding access to veterinary care frustrating and difficult. Our team at Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care knows this is a frustrating situation, and we want to explain why these delays are happening, so you better understand the situation.
#1: Veterinarians have an increased patient load
Many veterinary practices have seen an increase in business since the pandemic started. From wellness exams to emergencies, pet owners are requesting more appointments, overwhelming veterinarians. Factors that have contributed to this increase in patient load include:
- New pets — During the lockdown, many people sought to alleviate their loneliness by adopting or fostering a pet, and these new family additions need veterinary care. According to one study, 23 million American households acquired a new pet during the pandemic. These furry four-legged friends helped their new owners by reducing their stress and increasing their well-being, and their owners have been returning the favor by ensuring their new pets receive appropriate veterinary care.
- More attention — Another reason for the increased patient load for veterinarians is pet owners who are spending more time at home, and paying closer attention to their pets. The pandemic caused many people to start working from home, where they could spend more time with, and pay extra attention to, their pet. Because of the extra attention, owners noticed more health issues that required veterinary attention for their pets.
- Preventable conditions — Since vaccinations for many pets were postponed, some practices have seen an increase in diseases, such as parvovirus, which could have been prevented, had the pet received the appropriate vaccines.
- More money — Many pet owners also had more disposable income to spend on their pets, either from money saved on eating out and gasoline, or from stimulus payments. This allowed them to pay for veterinary bills they may not have been able to afford before.
Pets finding new homes, owners paying extra attention to their pets, and owners having more money to spend on their pet’s veterinary bills are all positive consequences, but these factors have led to an upsurge in work that veterinarians are struggling to fulfill.
#2: Veterinarians have a work backlog
When the pandemic was at its worst, many veterinary practices postponed elective surgeries so personal protective equipment (PPE) could be used on human patients. Some practices were forced to close, to quarantine. In addition, routine veterinary care was delayed, so urgent cases and emergencies could be seen more quickly. Veterinarians now are scrambling to catch up on their work backlog, as well as see new appointments.
#3: Veterinarians have to employ time-consuming safety protocols
As COVID-19 swept the country, veterinarians wanted to ensure their staff and clients were kept safe, so they instituted different measures to protect everyone from infection. Curbside appointments have become the norm, to minimize contact between clients and staff, and while these appointments are vital to keeping everyone safe, the added steps can make a normal fifteen-minute appointment require much more time. In addition, the cleaning and disinfecting protocols necessary to protect the staff add time. All this extra time spent carrying out the COVID-19 safety protocols is time veterinary professionals would normally spend examining and caring for your pet.
#4: Veterinary practices are experiencing staff shortages
Staff shortages are another factor contributing to a veterinary practice’s inability to see patients immediately. Issues causing these shortages include:
- Illness — Veterinarians who get COVID-19, show signs that could indicate COVID-19, or who are exposed to someone who has COVID-19, have to stay at home to quarantine, contributing to staff shortages.
- Burnout — The veterinary field is not an easy place to work. The hours are long, the work is stressful, and the outcomes aren’t always pleasant. These issues contribute to veterinarians struggling to maintain their mental health. Before COVID-19, veterinary professionals were experiencing burnout, leading them to decrease their work hours or change their career. The increased workload brought on by COVID-19 certainly did not help already overwhelmed veterinary professionals.
Our Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care team is trying hard to ensure all pets receive the care and attention they need and deserve, but as a responsible pet owner, you can help veterinary professionals provide appropriate care for your pet.
- Schedule preventive care early — Schedule your pet’s wellness exams and vaccination appointments well in advance, to ensure their coverage doesn’t lapse.
- Address problems promptly — Vigilantly monitor your pet for changes, and schedule an appointment at the first sign of any problem. Waiting until your pet is in an emergency situation could be extremely problematic if no veterinarians are available.
- Practice empathy and patience — Please understand that people in the veterinary industry are trying their best to meet your needs. Practicing a little empathy and patience when dealing with our staff will greatly facilitate the situation.
Although we don’t schedule appointments or provide wellness care, keeping up your pet’s preventive care with their regular veterinarian can prevent many problems that require emergency treatment. Unfortunately, we are experiencing longer-than-usual wait times as well, and fewer veterinary emergencies can help cut down on the backlog.
We know that waiting longer for an appointment with your veterinarian, or waiting longer for urgent care, can be upsetting and stressful for our pet owners. Hopefully, knowing what is behind these delays will help you understand how our veterinary professionals are striving to ensure we provide the best care for your pet. If your pet is experiencing a veterinary emergency, contact our team at Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care immediately.