Jan 27, 2022 - Things to Do

With area animal hospitals spread thin, where to take your pet in an emergency

Alivia's dog in NoDa

Photo: Alivia McAtee/Axios

Charlotteans will do most anything for their pets — take them to doggy “country clubs,” frolic with them in the snow, buy them expensive treats. We take the term “fur baby” seriously.

  • More than half of all households in Charlotte are considered “pet-owning households,” per the American Veterinary Medical Association.
  • AVMA reports that 38% of households own dogs, and 25% have cats — most are treated like new family members.
  • “People care more about animals today than 20-40 years ago,” Richard Killough of Long Animal Hospital tells me. “Dogs moved from the backyard to the bedroom.”

Yes, but: There’s a shortage of veterinarians nationwide, especially emergency veterinarians, to care for all those pets.

Driving the news: Killough, one of Charlotte’s most prominent vets, sent a letter to Long Animal Hospital’s patients and community saying the hospital would have to cut its nighttime and weekend emergency department services on Dec. 31.

  • The hospital, Killough wrote, would now only see emergency patients from 7am-8pm on weekdays and 7am-3pm on weekends.
  • “After having the privilege of serving our clients and their pets since 1948, I felt that I owed our faithful clients an explanation for our decision,” he wrote. 
  • Killough listed a collection of reasons for the hospital’s decision, including staffing issues, problems brought on by the pandemic, and a veterinary shortage plaguing the entire country.

Why it matters: Our pets can’t tell us when they don’t feel well. We have to rely on body language, changes in habits, and our instincts to recognize when something is wrong.

  • And at a time when pet ownership is rising, and as people continue to make pets more prominent in our lives, vet staffing hasn’t kept up.
  • For now, there are five emergency animal hospitals in the area. Until last year, there were six.

What’s happening: Since opening their South End facility in 2014, Killough says they’ve tried to employ five full-time emergency vets. “Every time we reached four ER doctors, we would lose one for various reasons,” Killough said. 

  • One of their emergency clinicians commuted more than 2 hours from Aiken, South Carolina.  
  • “It takes four doctors to run my practice properly; we’ve been doing it with three doctors for four years,” Killough said.

The big picture: Employee turnover has long been high in the veterinarian industry. But the pandemic made things worse, with inconsistent visit flow and shifting health guidelines for the virus.

  • Killough in his letter said that there are 123,472 veterinarians across the country, including small animal practitioners, large animal veterinarians, exotic veterinarians, veterinary specialists, emergency vets, researchers, professors, industry and government veterinarians.
  • About 3,200 veterinary students graduate each year from 32 accredited veterinary hospitals, he wrote.
  • Currently, there are approximately 4,600 emergency vets nationwide. At this time, Long Animal Hospital only just the three.
  • He says adding more veterinary schools across the country would help solve the problem.

What’s next: He notes that they’re still taking emergency patients Monday-Friday from 7am- 8pm and Saturday from 7am- 3pm. 

  • They still have veterinary technicians and support staff on-site to care for their patients 24 hours a day.
  • “You get us four vets and we’ll be open tomorrow,” he said. 

Emergency Veterinary Hospitals in the Area: 


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