Veterinarians struggling to keep up with demand for pet care

More Americans are becoming pet owners, and veterinary care is struggling to catch up.

There about almost 90 million U.S. households with pets, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Millions of people adopted or bought a pet during the pandemic, when the world was locked down. There are plenty of pets, but not enough veterinarians.

When John Gall’s 6-year-old Dachshund Beagle mix, May, fell through a broken step, he had to call four clinics before he found a veterinarian.

“I went to the Clayton Vet Hospital and they said they’re a week out,” gall said. “And then, I called another place that they suggested and they said they’re two weeks out. “

Gall drove 30 minutes to Oak Heart Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh to get help.

“I was concerned and I knew she couldn’t wait a week, nor could she wait two weeks,” Gall said of his dog.

May has recovered from her injury since receiving treatment.

However, more pet owners are finding themselves scrambling for veterinary care, and it’s going to get worse.

According to research from Mars Veterinary Health, the U. S. will need 41,000 additional veterinarians by 2030.

Many veterinarians have been seriously backlogged since the pandemic.

“It really hasn’t let up,” said Durham-based Urban Tails Veterinary Hospital Dr. Jenny Bennett. “We’ve not seen a decrease in our business at all. “

Bennett said demand is so great that the clinic has had to turn away patients.

“We book out for routine stuff one to two weeks in advance,” Bennett said.

Some 24-hour pet clinics are feeling the pinch even more.

“There were a couple nights where we were really short of overnight technicians,” said Dr. George Ghneim with the Oak Heart Veterinary Hospital. “We had to cut down on what we could see.”

Oak Heart Veterinary Hospital is down to three veterinarians and four vet technicians, according to Ghneim.

“It impacts how many cases we can hospitalize,” Ghneim said. “How many emergencies we can see in any given time period.”

Another reason for the shortage of veterinarians is the cost of the education. It costs $19,000 per year at North Carolina State University. Private programs can cost more than $100,000 total. Often, the cost leaves students saddled with debt and more likely to take jobs with corporate vet clinics.

NC State’s program takes four years for full-time students.

“It’s hard for small, private practices like us to attract people, a lot of the times, because the big corporations will offer big bonuses,” Bennett said.

Also, there is the stress of the job.

“It’s hard to see pets be sick and it’s hard to see pets suffer,” Bennett said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in six veterinarians has considered suicide. It’s a worry for Dr. Kathryn Meurs, the dean of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Our profession is very concerned about this,” Meurs said. “So, we spend a lot of time talking about mental health, about work life integration [and] how to protect yourself.”

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