The COVID-19 pandemic certainly threw a wrench in things for most Americans, affecting every aspect of our daily lives. Fast-forward two years, and some of our day-to-day has returned to normal, but a multitude of factors continues to affect the veterinary profession, causing increased demand for care, and subsequent difficulty meeting the needs of our pets. According to VetSuccess, appointments increased by 4.5% in 2020 and an additional 6.5% in 2021, which may seem like modest increases, but other factors have made this growth challenging for veterinarians. As a result, pet owners have experienced long wait times for appointments, and in some cases, denial of care.

Your Staples Mill Animal Hospital team wants to help you understand why this is happening. Here are the reasons you may be having trouble scheduling a visit with your veterinarian, and how you can help.

#1: More households are caring for pets

Since the beginning of 2020, the adoption rate—the percentage of pets in shelters finding homes—has soared, but the jury is still out on whether the actual adoption numbers increased. Data from sources including Best Friends Animal Society, 24PetWatch, and Shelter Animals Count indicate that shelter adoptions decreased by about 17% in 2020, because shelters took in fewer animals. 

Shelter data do not account for pets adopted or purchased through other sources, so may not provide a complete picture. Anecdotally, veterinarians report seeing more new patients than ever, many of them new household acquisitions. An ASPCA survey found that one in five households welcomed a new pet during the pandemic, confirming what veterinarians have seen. Pets helped many people cope with pandemic-associated anxiety and loneliness, and lockdowns provided people with more time to train and care for their new family members.

#2: Pet owners are spending more time at home with their pets

At the beginning, stay-at-home orders and remote work setups meant that many people were spending more time at home with their pets—new and existing. This meant people were more likely to notice pet health issues sooner, and they had plenty of time to bring them in for care. Pets who weren’t adopted during the pandemic were more likely to find a foster home, where their guardians were more likely to notice subtle medical problems than shelter staff. This contributed to the rise in appointment demand, and now that remote work has become permanent for many people, continues to be a driving factor.

#3: Veterinary hospitals are short-staffed

Demand for veterinary care has increased, but most veterinary hospitals have not maintained a full staff through the pandemic, leaving fewer people to care for more pets. The staffing crisis has many drivers, including:

  • Stress and burnout — The veterinary profession has always been high-stress with a high burnout rate, but the pandemic intensified this. Veterinary staff struggle with the same pandemic anxiety as others, with the added mental health strain of a significantly increased workload, lengthened hours leading to poor work-life balance, changing safety protocols, upset pet owners, and the need to deny care to some pets. 
  • Illness and childcare — Quarantines and isolation protocols keep critical staff members at home. Many staff members struggled with childcare concerns when day-care centers closed, or during remote learning. 
  • Training and education — Eight years of post-high-school education is required to become a veterinarian, and two to four years to become a credentialed veterinary technician. With a relatively small number of veterinary schools across the country, adding new veterinarians to underserved communities takes time. 

#4: Veterinary hospitals are less efficient

According to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinary hospitals are operating at 25% less efficiency, seeing fewer patients per hour. Efficiency declined largely because of missing staff members and the implementation of new—and constantly evolving—safety protocols. The vast majority of hospitals have shifted to “curbside” care to keep lobbies and exam rooms clear, and to reduce contact between pet owners and staff while still providing needed care. Curbside care keeps everyone safe, but strains the reception staff with increased call volume, keeps technicians running in and out all day, and requires veterinarians to spend more time with each patient at each visit because of the extra steps that each visit involves.

#5: Veterinary hospitals are still playing catch-up

Veterinary care remained an essential service throughout the pandemic, but some hospitals closed temporarily because of outbreaks or staffing problems. Others stayed open, but were able to accommodate only urgent or emergency cases, pushing routine wellness care to the back burner. Now that restrictions have relaxed, routine care is once again a priority, but hospitals are still catching up on the backlog.

We understand that your pet’s care is important, and that waiting days or weeks for an appointment is frustrating. We are hard at work finding ways to maximize efficiency, care for our team members, and ensure your pets get the help they need. To help your veterinary team and ensure you don’t find yourself in a tough spot with a pet emergency, schedule your pet’s care well in advance. However, if your pet does have a new problem, don’t wait for the problem to worsencall us right away to schedule a visit. Be kind when interacting with our team members, and understand that we are doing everything we can to see your pet as soon as possible. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we provide care to your pet, but we are adapting, and we’re here to help. If you’d like to schedule your pet’s routine wellness visit, or you’ve noticed a problem with your pet, call us to schedule an appointment with your Staples Mill Animal Hospital team.