Here’s How the Vet Shortage Will Impact Pet Owners

| Christy Caplan CVT

COVID-19 related changes in pet healthcare are still impacting pet owners. Here's a brief rundown on the vet shortage & solutions if you can't get an appointment.

a vet listening to a french bulldog's heartbeat

The latest vet shortage may make you want to break up with your vet.

Wait times are up to 2 to 3 weeks in the U.S. to see a vet or vet specialist, and emergency room visits could find you stranded in the waiting room for 20 hours or more. That’s especially concerning if your dog is unresponsive, breaks a bone, or is in pain.

The bad news is, according to a report from Mars, the vet industry needs to expand to handle the number of pets needing care. Long story short - this problem isn’t going away any time soon.

What’s Causing This Vet Shortage?

More pet owners are still working from home, which means that they’re realizing that their pets are ill or uncomfortable far sooner than they were before the pandemic. This also means that weekends are no longer the busiest days at the local clinic or hospital.

With that in mind, here are five more reasons for the vet shortage:   

  • Vet clinics and hospitals are short-staffed

  • Vets that were at retirement age left their practices during the pandemic

  • Adoptions increased once COVID struck, and more U.S. households now have pets

  • Dogs and cats are living longer, and the senior animal population is growing

  • Industry wages are low across the board, especially for vet techs

The bottom line is there are not enough vets.

What If You Can’t See Your Vet?

Pets are important members of the family. When they get sick or injured, pet owners need to rely on the veterinarian community to help them. And no pet owner wants to wait ten hours for their pet to be seen.

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, “Hospitals, clinics, and vet offices around the U.S. in the past year have been turning animals away because they are short staffed. This crisis has hit all levels of the system, from general practice to specialists...”

Here are suggestions in case you’re struggling to find a vet:

24/7 Vet Helpline or Online Vet Platform

Don’t be surprised if your existing vet wants to see your pet and will not give advice over the phone, even if the wait is weeks. Thankfully, there are many new 24/7 vet helplines available for pet owners. This is an excellent option if you’re struggling to get in to see a vet and need some advice on a minor health issue. These services offer visits by phone, video, and chat. Some 24/7 vet helpline services even ship prescription medications.

A few pet insurance brands also provide this service to their policyholders at no charge.

If you’re in an emergency situation where your dog or cat needs to be seen for something like a broken bone, a waiting list at a local emergency hospital is the best option. Ideally, the hospital will triage your pet and move them to the top of the list.

Establish a Relationship with Your Vet Clinic

Finding a vet partner is the goal, and your relationship with your vet will make a big difference during this crisis. If you’re in a positive relationship with your vet, and the clinic is full of people you trust, you’ll be more comfortable following their advice, especially if you need to deal with an emergency on your own.

For example, if the wait to see your vet is a few weeks out, and they tell you to administer medication you have at home in the interim, you’ll rest assured knowing that they have your pet’s best interests in mind. If your vet doesn’t know you or your pet well enough to discuss an interim treatment plan, you may need to refer to a 24/7 online vet helpline or even an emergency vet hospital if the first available appointment isn’t for a few weeks. 

Know What to Say When You’re Calling the Vet

Always stay calm and collected when you reach out to your vet. Pet owners should consider writing down notes of their dog or cat’s symptoms before calling or emailing the vet’s office. The better your communication skills and the more information you can provide, the better the treatment recommendation and likelihood of an appointment.

Have Medication at Home for Health Issues

Your vet may allow additional refills on medications your pet takes for pain management or allergies. For example, your senior dog may take gabapentin as needed for pain management, and having this type of drug on hand will help ensure your dog is comfortable if they need to wait a few days to get to the vet.

Always Have a First-Aid Kit at Home

You may need to dive into your first-aid kit before calling your vet. At the beginning of each month, check to ensure you have the bare essentials in your kit. You want to be prepared for common outdoor emergencies like a bee sting or wound. You can often prevent your pet from suffering by giving them Benadryl to help with allergies or an allergic reaction to a bug bite.

Herbs and Supplements May Help

There are a few herbs and supplements to use for ailments like diarrhea. Herbs should never replace medication, but may help your pet if they’re suffering from GI upset, paw injuries, or a minor laceration. Aloe is a popular healing plant, and the juice is used for burns and wounds. It’s also excellent for relieving irritation as an injury heals.

Don’t Forget About Holistic Vets

Dr. Judy Morgan suggests doing an online consultation with a holistic veterinarian to supplement primary care needs now rather than waiting until your pet is sick or injured. A holistic vet is an integral part of your pet’s medical team, and while you wait to see your primary vet, many integrative vets offer online consultations. If you are looking for one where you live, visit this holistic vet finder tool.

For one-on-one vet consultations, Dr. Morgan recommends the following online holistic veterinary consultations:

Websites To Save

Keep the following websites in mind in case of an emergency. This list is especially beneficial if you just moved somewhere new and are still researching a vet for your pets. Please don’t wait too long though! Start calling local vets and interviewing the clinic to ensure it’s a good fit.

  • Pet Poison Prevention Helpline and ASPCA Poison Control

  • Your vet and 1-2 other vets in the area (even if you have an established vet)

  • At least 2-3 local emergency hospitals

  • Pet-friendly hotels if there is a disaster (e.g., wildfire)

Petflation: Vet Care is More Expensive Than Ever

Seeing an emergency doctor when your regular vet can’t care for your dog is terrifying and will make a huge dent in whatever savings you have for pet health issues. With inflation and costs rising, everything is more expensive than it was a few years ago.

Can Having Pet Insurance Help?

The number of households with pets increased dramatically, climbing 14% in 2021. Based on these statistics, the vet shortage is here to stay, and you will need to save more for your pet budget than in years past. Enrolling in a pet insurance plan offered by AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) can help ensure your pet receives the necessary veterinary care they need.

Get a quote today and focus more on the health of your pet and less on costly veterinary bills.

Christy Caplan CVT

Christy is a writer, editor, blogger, chicken keeper, and storyteller. She uses her knowledge as a certified veterinary technician to inform animal lovers on health and wellness topics. Christy's Standard Dachshund and Beagle mix are the inspiration behind her writing portfolio and essays.


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