May 13, 2024 - News

Local animal advocacy groups seek to address vet shortage

Illustration of a cat playing with a stethoscope.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Despite an increase in new veterinary clinics in California, there's still an ongoing statewide vet shortage that animal advocacy organizations say must be addressed.

Why it matters: The national and statewide vet shortage, as well as pet-friendly housing restrictions and other factors, have all contributed to shelter overcrowding, according to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SF SPCA).

State of play: The SF SPCA, along with other animal welfare organizations, announced last week a free statewide pet adoption day on June 1 as part of the first California Adopt-a-Pet Day.

  • A 2023 SF SPCA survey found that vet shortages resulted in one-third of shelters reporting an increase in the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals.

What they're saying: "So right now shelters are in a bit of a crisis and pet owners are also in a bit of a crisis," SF SPCA CEO Jennifer Scarlett recently told the San Francisco Examiner.

The big picture: The number of vet establishments across the country has gone up 8.4% since 2012, according to 2021 Census Bureau data, the most recent available. In California, that number has gone up 11%.

Veterinary establishments in California
Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, but: The number of households with animals has also increased. As of 2022, there were about 86 million dogs and 66 million cats in the U.S., an annual increase of about 2% a year since 2016, according to a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association, Mark Rosati.

  • In 2023, the AVMA noticed demand for pet veterinary services started to return to pre-pandemic levels, a trend expected to continue this year, Rosati told Axios.

What to watch: There are a handful of bills in the state Legislature focused on animal welfare, some of which have the potential to address vet shortages.

  • Assembly Bill 2216 would limit a landlord's ability to charge tenants monthly pet fees — a practice that advocates argue can result in tenants either not having pets or surrendering their pets.
  • Senate Bill 1233, meanwhile, seeks to require the University of California and the Western University of Health Sciences to develop high-volume spay and neuter certification programs.
  • Meanwhile, veterinary schools are increasing class capacity and a number of new vet schools are in development, Rosati says.
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