Apr 27, 2022 - Economy

Pets beware: America confronts massive veterinarian shortage

Illustration of dog treats spelling out “HELP”.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Veterinary appointments are getting harder to come by, with clinics facing labor shortages stemming from pandemic disruption.

Why it matters: Americans are spending more than ever on their pets, which have provided us companionship during a time of isolation.

State of play: Veterinarians say they’re suffering from burnout and offering fewer appointments per hour than pre-pandemic times due to new safety protocols.

  • Vet shortages are “everywhere right now,” Susan Sholtis, president of treatment provider PetIQ, told investors in March.
  • “Everybody is pushing to hire veterinarians. … They're working 1.5 to 2 hours longer every day, and their actual productivity is down. So they're seeing fewer pets.”

The big picture: Some 1 in 3 Americans adopted a pet in the first several months of the pandemic — and vets are getting overwhelmed dealing with the resulting demand.

  • The number of monthly appointments per clinic was 1,012 in 2021, up 11% from 2019, according to VetSuccess, an analytics company.

Yes, but: Those appointments are stretched over longer periods. And pet owners — some flush with cash from wage gains, stock growth and stimulus checks — are making extra demands.

  • “Clients are asking for more veterinary products and services,” according to an analysis by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). They “are opting for higher-value products and services.”
  • In the early months of the pandemic, vets offered only essential services, leading to a backlog of wellness visits. Since then, they've been playing catchup.
  • Now, they’re fielding requests from clients who are spotting more health issues with their pets since they’re spending additional time at home.

Threat level: About 1 in 4 vets are quitting annually industrywide, Sholtis said.

  • “I graduated in 2000 from tech school. There were about 23 people in my graduating class. There are only six or seven of them that are still in the field,” Bethany Rohrer, specialty technician supervisor at the VCA Great Lakes emergency clinic in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, told ABC News 5 in Cleveland.

The impact: Prices are jumping.

  • The average vet practice recorded $2.45 million in revenue in 2021, up 18% from 2019, according to VetSuccess.

What’s next: The nation is expected to face a shortage of nearly 15,000 vets by 2030, according to Mars Veterinary Health, a network of clinics, hospitals and labs.

  • “The stress and pressure veterinary professionals are dealing with today are both real and prevalent,” the AVMA reported. “While the increase in demand for veterinary care that many practices have experienced is a part of the challenge, impacts to productivity and issues of staff turnover make the situation even more difficult and complex.”
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