“Ugh,” you think to yourself, “it’s taking forever for my pet to get their nails trimmed! Why can’t my veterinarian see my pet today?” You may think that something as simple as a nail trim should be easy to slip into a veterinary practice’s schedule. But the truth is, veterinary teams are so overwhelmed, a quick nail trim can be impossible to schedule that day, or that week. Here are five reasons why pets are waiting so long to see their veterinarians. 

#1: Pandemic protocols slashed veterinary teams’ efficiency and productivity

Compared with 2019, average veterinarian productivity in 2020 declined by almost 25%, according to data from the AVMA Census of Veterinarians and Veterinary Practice Owners. As veterinarian productivity declined, they saw fewer patients per hour. For example, if a veterinarian typically used to see four patients per hour, they are now seeing only three. Assuming an eight-hour work day, veterinarians are seeing only 120 patients per week, instead of 160. That is a huge drop in the number of pets receiving veterinary care. 

Curbside care, social distancing, and extensive cleaning protocols contributed to this decreased efficiency. To keep our team and clients safe, we did our best to limit face-to-face interactions and the number of people inside our hospital, and implemented rigorous disinfection procedures. However, all these protocols took extra time, slowing our productivity. If you had a curbside appointment, you saw firsthand how much time was required to retrieve your pet, perform an examination, contact you with results, obtain permission for diagnostic testing or treatment, return your pet, and process payment. While we wish to return to full in-practice appointments, we still have your health and safety foremost in mind, and will continue to implement hybrid curbside service. Please bear with us, as we strive to care for pets as efficiently as possible.

#2: Veterinary practices are more short-staffed than usual

Before the pandemic struck, the veterinary industry was already struggling to find and retain skilled, licensed professionals. Although working with animals is an attractive draw, the veterinary field is full of difficult demands that make staying a challenge. A lopsided work-life balance, low wages, poor management, underutilization, and the physical and mental burdens of the job take a huge toll on veterinary professionals. Because of these demands, many veterinary professionals choose to migrate to human health care, or a radically different field. Veterinary technicians typically last only five years in the field before switching, and veterinary schools cannot keep up with the need for trained and licensed veterinarians. 

Since finding veterinary team members—including kennel assistants and receptionists—is such a struggle, practices are operating with minimal staff. In an attempt to prevent their skeleton crew from burning out, or becoming ill or injured, practice managers are choosing to preserve their team’s health by not overloading the appointment schedule. Fewer veterinary professionals mean fewer pets receive care, and this challenge will take time for the industry to overcome.

#3: Pet owners are demanding more veterinary care for their pets

During quarantine and lockdown orders, people spent more time at home with their pets. While dogs rejoiced and cats tolerated the extra attention, their owners discovered more minor health issues. A bump that may have gone undiscovered in long fur until growing so large that urgent care was required, or that occasional sniffle that would likely have been ignored, suddenly needed immediate attention. As pet owners found new problems with their pets, they overwhelmed veterinary practices seeking appointments. Also, the influx of discretionary income through stimulus checks allowed pet owners to flock to their veterinarians in droves, clamoring for that delayed dental cleaning, or skipped heartworm test. A short-staffed veterinary practice, decreased efficiency, and increased demand for pet care created the perfect storm of an overloaded industry.

#4: Veterinary teams are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy

Because COVID-19 could easily spread through entire practices, decimating a fully functioning team, veterinary teams worked hard to keep their teams and clients healthy. Cleaning and social distancing protocols led to greatly increased appointment times, and, although we staved off sickness, our efficiency plummeted. Curbside care and lengthy disinfection measures took extra time that we had to find in our already too-busy schedule, and pushed us further behind.

#5: Veterinary practices are struggling to work through a backlog of wellness care

However, pets still need wellness and illness care, and as the demand for veterinary services mounts, veterinary teams are stretching themselves thin to care for as many pets as possible. Limited services and closed practices at the height of the pandemic delayed many pets’ wellness care, and veterinarians are still attempting to catch up with this massive backlog of services. 

Our Driftwood Animal Hospital team asks that you please be patient and kind as we strive to see your pet as quickly as possible. Sick and injured pets fill the bulk of our schedule, and we work in as many pets’ wellness appointments as we can, to ensure they remain healthy. To help your pet receive veterinary care when they need it, call well in advance to schedule their appointment. This means calling as soon as you notice a minor issue, and scheduling your pet’s wellness visit a month or more in advance. By working together, we can help our community’s pets receive the care they need to stay happy and healthy.