FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – During the darkest times of the pandemic, Dr. Diona Krahn’s veterinary clinic was a puppy party, overrun with new four-legged patients.
Typically, she had three or four new puppies per week, but between shelter adoptions and private purchases, the 2020 COVID-19 pet boom has brought five to seven new clients per day to her practice in Raleigh, in North Carolina. Many are first-time pet owners.
Like many vets in the United States, she has also seen more sick animals. To meet demand, vets interviewed by The Associated Press have extended hours, hired additional staff and refused to take on new patients, and they still can’t keep up. Burnout and fatigue are of such concern that some practices hire counselors to support their tired staff.
“Everyone is working beyond their capabilities at this point,” said Krahn, who added evening hours last year.
About 12.6 million U.S. households had a new pet last year after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, according to a COVID-19 Pulse study from the American Pet Products Association.
Meanwhile, fewer people have given up on their pets in 2020, so they need continued care, experts have said. And as people worked from home and spent more time with their pets, they had more opportunities to notice bumps, limbs, and other ailments that usually couldn’t be treated.
Vets were already struggling to meet pre-pandemic demand, with veterinary schools unable to produce enough doctors and technicians to fill the void.
Krahn left his practice in North Carolina three months ago and now oversees nine veterinary and animal hospital clinics across Utah and Idaho under the Pathway Vet Alliance.
“All my practices are reserved several weeks in advance. Clients are actually calling and making appointments at multiple locations, ”and even using emergency care services, she said.
Banfield Pet Hospital, one of the nation’s largest providers of preventive veterinary medicine, recorded about half a million more animal visits in 2020 than in 2019. And its telehealth service has more than doubled in volume from March to the end of last year.
Thrive, another primary care group of veterinary hospitals, with 110 facilities across the United States, reported a 20% increase in demand during the pandemic. The two repeated a common refrain – as humans spent more time with their pets, they were more in tune with their ailments – big and small.
“With COVID, a lot of people have become powerless towards their loved ones,” said Claire Pickens, senior director of Thrive, “but the only thing they still had the ability to control was taking care of their pet.”
Clinics have been forced to streamline, asking patients to fill out forms online or over the phone before their appointments, as hiring additional staff is often not an option.
“The industry is growing at such a rate that it cannot fill all the roles necessary to meet the growing demand for services,” Pickens said.
Veterinary jobs are expected to increase 16% by 2029, nearly four times the average for most other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs in veterinary technology are expected to increase by almost 20% over the next five years.
“We are still understaffed despite the active search for additional staff,” said Dr Katarzyna Ferry, of the Palm Beach Gardens Specialist Veterinary Hospital.
Verg, a 24-hour specialist and emergency hospital in Brooklyn, has reported a 40% increase in emergency care since the start of the pandemic. It also meant more hospitalizations for pets, straining various specialties like surgery and cardiology.
“The demand continues to grow,” causing extreme weariness in a profession known for its kind-hearted workers, said Verg chief medical officer Dr Brett Levitzke.
“The fear of the unknown with the pandemic causes more intense emotions on the part of our customers,” said Levitzke. He saw explosions and sworn threats from pet owners, as well as outpourings of love, with cards and pastries. Once the staff’s toll became noticeable, they hired a compassion fatigue specialist for support.
“Sadly, compassion fatigue, anxiety and depression have already hit our profession, and the pandemic has certainly taken it to another level,” Levitzke said.
Krahn said she sold her practice in North Carolina to Pathway and then took on an administrative role within the company, in part to provide practical and emotional support to vets, knowing the toll first. hand.
“As vets it’s our job to take care of ourselves, but we also take care of people through their animals,” Krahn said. “Doctors and support teams find it difficult to take care of themselves in a way that preserves them so that they can continue to do so.”