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One recurring headline over this past year has been the challenges of getting into veterinary offices for appointments. Many veterinary clinics are quoting 2-3 weeks before normal appointments are available and emergency rooms are routinely seeing 6,8 or even 12-hour wait times. Tom Dock of Noah’s Animal Hospitals joined us today to explain what happened to increase these wait times and the best way you can deal with them. Here’s more from him:

Historically, getting into your veterinary office for an appointment was easy. Most clinics could see you within 24 – 72 hours or they might even be able to “work you in” that day. Since the pandemic began, this quick availability seemed to disappear.

At the beginning of the pandemic, veterinarians were asked to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and most areas instituted stay at home orders, so routine, preventive care was not scheduled. This caused a back up that was compounded by some veterinary offices closing or restricting hours.

These longer wait times for an appointment started driving some pet owners to the emergency clinics, similar to situations in human medicine where individuals without primary care physicians seek care for routine issues at human emergency rooms. Now, instead of 4-5 cases a day on emergency, most animal ERs are looking at 20-30 per day! And, this has gone on non-stop for 16 months all across the US.

One local emergency hospital reported seeing 825 emergency cases during June 2021 alone…that’s 27 emergencies per day! It’s also a 13% increase over June 2020. Experts state that pet adoptions increased by more than 15% during the pandemic, adding millions of pets to households across the nation.

Finally, inefficiencies with carside appointments, a labor shortage, and a big increase in the number of pets needing to be seen has led to a backlog and frustrations for pet owners. Threats of violence, damage to property, and even an increase in calls to local law enforcement have been seen. Some clients have tried to force their way past veterinary employees, some have brought weapons to the clinic, others have threatened staff with bodily harm.

As cities and states “open up” and remove mask mandates, many veterinary offices have been slow to open their doors for a wide variety of reasons. First, in some cases, there may not be enough staff to handle the caseload. Stats from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) show that there are 14 job postings for every single veterinarian applicant!

While numbers aren’t readily available, there is an extreme shortage of veterinary technicians and trained veterinary assistants as well. Many of these individuals are also very young (20-30 years of age) and may not have jumped on the vaccine bandwagon. This has led to some reluctance to allow unfettered access to the clinic where people are necessarily in close proximity during the visit.

The bottom line in all of this is that there is a need for patience when you visit your local veterinary office. The team wants to be there for you and your pets, but they don’t deserve verbal harassment or threats of violence.

Be prepared to be flexible with your pet’s needed care…ask about drop off appointments or a virtual appointment via video conferencing. Some veterinary offices will save 2-4 appointment slots as “same day” appointments, but you will need to call early!

If you don’t need to go to the animal ER, don’t. Emergency rooms will triage incoming patients and even if you have been there for an hour, someone with a more urgent case (respiratory distress, hemorrhage, urinary blockage, or toxin exposure) may jump the line ahead of you.

Try to think ahead for your pet’s medication and therapeutic diet needs. As one example, a local clinic handled more than a dozen phone calls on July 3rd for anti-anxiety medications. They actually ran out of one type of medication!

Your veterinarian and his/her team are ready, willing, and more than able to help you and your pets…just remember to give them a little patience and bring good energy to your pet’s visit with his/her doctor!

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