Nov 9, 2021 - Business
Vet wait times remain high due to pandemic
A photo of a dog lying on the ground next to a child.
A boy and his dog during SXSW in Austin. Photo: Sandra Dahdah/Getty Images for SXSW

Pandemic-related issues increased wait times at veterinary clinics and animal hospitals through 2020, but even with widespread vaccines and declining COVID cases, Austin-area vets are still pushed to the brink.

Why it matters: Overloaded clinics mean longer wait times for pets, including those in need of immediate care.

Zoom out: It's part of a larger problem. A recent report from the American Veterinary Medical Association found a nationwide trend of overworked and overwhelmed providers.

  • While headlines point to a pet adoption boom during the pandemic, the report found that long wait times are more likely due to a decline in veterinary productivity. The shift to curbside or virtual intake to meet social distancing guidelines has meant that vets see fewer pets each hour.

Many clinics have yet to catch up, said Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and president-elect of the AVMA.

  • There are a number of reasons why, she told Axios:
    • Some pet owners put off routine wellness checks for their animals at the start of the pandemic.
    • Others became first-time pet owners as they switched to working from home.
    • And like other businesses, the industry has had to respond to staffing shortages and burnout as a result of COVID and workplace shifts.

"One of the big effects of the pandemic is that veterinary visits became less efficient with curbside care," Teller said.

  • "When people can't get seen by their regular veterinarian — and maybe what used to be a 24 or 48 hour wait has now become a two or three week wait — that gets dumped on our local emergency clinics," Teller added.

Emancipet, a nonprofit clinic offering low-cost care, has faced consistently high demand for its services in Central Texas.

  • "More pet owners need low cost vet care," Rabecca Cross, Emancipet's vice president of Central Texas, said of Austin's affordability challenges.
  • "Many Austin pet owners depend on access to affordable veterinary care to keep their pets healthy and spayed and neutered, so the demand for Emancipet's veterinary services remains high," Cross said.

The big picture: Veterinarians and their staff are doing the best they can, and these issues are likely to be resolved in the coming months as vets lift curbside processes and catch up on their backlog, Teller said.

  • "Be patient," Teller said. "You might have to wait six hours to be seen, and it's because veterinarians are doing what they can, and their staff, to see patients as quickly and safely and efficiently as they can."
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