May 13, 2024 - News

Washington's pets need more vets

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

New veterinary clinics are popping up in Washington, but many more clinics, vets and support staff may be needed to meet demand amid an ongoing national shortage.

Why it matters: The pandemic pet adoption boom aggravated an existing shortage, which contributed to provider burnout.

State of play: Due to a "severe workforce shortage," the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association earlier this year asked legislators for $5 million to fund 20 additional spots for in-state students at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • "Not enough veterinarians are being trained to care for either our farm or companion animals," the association said.
  • While the Legislature adjourned in March without approving the funding, association CEO Ken Gordon told Axios it will be proposed again next year.

Zoom in: Gordon, citing an American Veterinary Medical Association 2024 economic analysis, said the Pacific Northwest is home to about 16% of the U.S. population but only 13.5% of the nation's vets.

  • A lot of Washington vets left the practice during the pandemic, he said, because — though vets work with animals — they are actually "people people and their jobs became so much harder and less satisfying when they couldn't connect in person."

What they're saying: "We are still coming out of the pandemic and we don't know what the new normal will be," Gordon said.

By the numbers: The amount of vet establishments across the country has gone up 8.4% since 2012, according to 2021 Census Bureau data, the most recent available.

  • In Washington, veterinary establishments increased from 759 in 2012 to 841 in 2018 before dropping to 825 in 2020.
  • In 2021, the number of clinics rose to 855, according to bureau data.

Yes, but: The number of households with pets also increased, per American Pet Products Association data.

  • 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 Mark Rosati, a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
  • In 2023, the AVMA noticed demand for pet veterinary services starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, a trend expected to continue this year, Rosati told Axios.

What we're watching: Veterinary schools are increasing class capacity and a number of new vet schools are in development, including one in Utah.

  • When that opens, per Gordon, it will open more spaces at WSU's vet school, which has an agreement with Utah to train its vets during the last two years of their schooling.

Of note: 64% of vets are women, per AVMA numbers.

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