The Pandemic Ushered in More Pet Owners and Left Vets Exhausted

In a piece for the Inquirer, Katie Park argues that the Covid-19 pandemic led to a surge in pet ownership as well as such a demand for veterinary services that veterinarians have been left exhausted.

The health crisis resulted in states issuing stay-at-home orders, and even as lockdowns were eased, the emergence and necessity of remote work meant that people were spending more time at home than ever before. This triggered feelings of isolation, and loneliness, and in many casus, the onslaught of mental health crisis. For many people, getting pets, or even getting more pets was a way of coping with the vicissitudes of the pandemic. People turned to pets to give them comfort, to give them companionship, to feel less isolated at a time of unprecedented difficulty.

As the Inquirer points out, this has meant that the demand for veterinary services has spiked. Katie Park interviewed Scott Neabore, a veterinarian who says that his small practice of three partners has been overwhelmed by the demand for surgeries. Neabore says that his practice is booked till autumn with surgeries. Anyone who needs a procedure will have to wait till next year or visit another practice. Neabore estimates that he has conducted more neuter and spay surgeries during the pandemic than at any time prior to that.

According to Neabore, the pet population doubled during the pandemic, whereas the population of veterinarians did not. This demand-supply mismatch has led to supply chain problems: there are simply not enough veterinarians to meet the demand. It will take a while before there is a return to normalcy.

Data from the American Pet Products Association shows that 11.38 million households become pet owners over the course of the pandemic. This is a massive increase in pet ownership. It’s no wonder that many veterinary practices are overwhelmed by the amount of work that they have to do. This at a time in which those practices have also had to deal with adopting Covid-10 health and safety protocols, reductions in staff sizes in response to the need for social distancing. In many instances, practices have been dealing with more demand for their services even when they have not been able to function at full capacity.

For many practices, there was an inevitable increase in waiting periods, with some practices reporting waiting periods of up to seven hours. This was exacerbated by new pet owners who brought their pets in for matters that were far from urgent.

The rise in demand and the supply bottlenecks forced many pet owners to pay emergency hospital fees, which are more expensive than the fees one pays at a general practice, so they could avoid the huge waiting periods.

One veterinarian interviewed  by Park, Agatha Kuza, said that she normally sees 10 to 15 patients for every 12-hour shift. On very busy days, she has seen as many as 30 patients in a 12-hour shift. At the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Hillsborough, N.J., at one point, eight patients arrived within one hour.

Despite this, the best local veterinarians continue to provide quality care to their patients. This story is yet another reminder of the toll of the pandemic of America’s health care workers and the importance in our lives.