You may have noticed that getting an appointment with your veterinarian takes a lot longer since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This phenomenon can be seen at general practices, specialists, and emergency hospitals across the country. Common wait times for appointments at your primary veterinarian may be several weeks, up to several months at the specialist, and six to eight hours at the ER. Why is this happening? Let Just Cats Clinic shed some light on the issue.

#1: Increased demand for veterinary care

The demand for veterinary care has increased significantly since the pandemic began. Many veterinarians have seen a multi-fold increase in appointment requests, new patients, and emergencies, making this their busiest time on record. Several factors have influenced this change, including:

  • New pet adoptions and fosters – When the shelter-in-place mandates were in full effect, adopting or fostering a pet became a popular solution to loneliness and boredom. For those already considering a new pet, quarantine allowed extra time at home to care for them. Shelters, which were taking in fewer animals because of closures and operating restrictions, were soon cleared of available pets. People turned to social media and private rescue organizations to help pets in need. While the total number of pets across the country did not actually increase, more now had homes and families to care for them. 
  • More time spent with pets at home – People who worked with certain companies began working from home at the start of the pandemic, and many of those companies have adopted a permanent hybrid or home-based work platform. That means more people spend a lot more time with their pets, which allows them to spot health problems sooner.
  • Catching up on a backlog of veterinary care – During the height of the initial COVID crisis, many clinics put off elective surgeries to avoid using supplies that might be needed for human patients. Wellness and vaccine visits also fell to the back burner while only urgent and emergent cases were seen. Some clinics affected by COVID were forced to quarantine for several weeks, closing their doors completely. Eventually, clinics adopted new protocols and re-opened in some capacity, although many clients still had safety concerns, and preferred to postpone wellness care. This created a need for more appointments to catch up on routine care.

Clearing the shelters of homeless pets and spending more time with our pets at home are good things. However, combined with the backlog of other patient care needs, these pandemic trends have created the perfect storm of demand that the veterinary community is struggling to meet. 

#2: Increased difficulty in providing veterinary care

While demand for veterinary care has skyrocketed, hospitals have been unable to meet that demand. The number of veterinarians and staff is finite, and training new ones takes years. In addition to lacking a cushion to absorb the patient influx, veterinarians face:

  • Staffing shortages — Staffing and turnover in the veterinary profession was a pre-pandemic issue, but COVID-19 made things considerably worse. For a small team of four, losing only one staff member to illness, quarantine, or child care means losing 25 percent efficiency. Losing multiple staff members for weeks on end means not only caring for fewer pets, but also puts a huge strain on the remaining staff, contributing to burnout.
  • Staff burnout — Veterinary staff joined this profession because they love pets and want to make a difference in pets’ and people’s lives. Because of the increased demands during the pandemic, staff have had to work longer hours, manage more patients at a time, and deny care to patients when the workload is too high. Staff are also faced with pet owners who, worried about their sick pet, become upset when told they must wait for an appointment. These are huge stressors, and veterinary staff burnout is on the rise. Many are leaving the profession to seek lower stress jobs. 
  • COVID-19 safety protocols — Everything takes a little bit longer since COVID came along. “Curbside” provides a safe way to limit contact and still provide care for pets, but requires multiple time-consuming steps. Inside, stricter cleaning and disinfecting protocols ensure pet owner and staff safety but take more time. Some larger clinics have adopted a rotating staff schedule in which only half the staff works at any given time. This protects the clinic from possible closure, by ensuring only half the staff will quarantine should the clinic have a COVID case, but means that the clinic runs at half efficiency all the time.

All of this means that routine appointments may be scheduled several weeks out. Where many veterinarians used to “squeeze in” urgent issues same-day, those patients may now be referred to urgent care or emergency facilities with long waits. 

How Just Cats Clinic is combating the problem

We understand how frustrating the current situation is to pet owners. It is challenging to us as well. To continue providing the best care we can for you pet, we have made the following adjustments:

  • Increased hours — We have extended our regular hospital hours so our patients will not have to wait so long to be seen. We are currently open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Urgent care hours — We have also added urgent care hours, when we see urgent cases only. We hope to prevent our clients from having to visit the emergency hospital, which will in turn reduce their load, and allow them to attend to other patients faster. We currently see urgent cases from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. 
  • Team support — We attract and keep staff by paying our team a living wage that is far above industry average. We also offer health benefits, retirement savings, and other benefits. This allows us to attract and retain the best of the best in cat medicine. During the pandemic, we paid for counseling for staff members, to help them manage or prevent burnout.

The veterinary profession will adapt over time, and adjust to our new normal’s increased demand. Until then, please be kind to your veterinary staff, and proactive with your pet’s care. Contact us to schedule an appointment with your Just Cats Clinic team well in advance for a wellness visit, or as soon as you notice any medical problems, so they do not become an urgent issue later.