You are used to calling your veterinarian to schedule an appointment for your pet, and getting in in a day or two. However, appointments now may be scheduled weeks or months ahead, depending on the care your pet needs, and how overwhelmed your veterinary practice is at the moment. Why is seeing a veterinarian as quickly as you used to such a challenge? The Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team answers this question, and more, concerning the nationwide veterinary industry overload. 

Question: Why does seeing my veterinarian take so long?

Answer: A multitude of factors are contributing to the delay in your pet’s veterinary appointments. Veterinary practices around the country are overwhelmed by the number of pets needing care, with many issues deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other problems, such as the veterinary staffing shortage, had been going on long before the pandemic, and have only worsened in the past couple of years. With such issues as staffing and supply shortages, time-consuming curbside care protocols, and an increased number of pets requiring veterinary care, many pet owners are discovering that their veterinarian is so backed up that they cannot see them in a timely fashion.

Q: What does the COVID-19 pandemic have to do with veterinary overload?

A: When the pandemic struck and rapidly became widespread, people were scared. Tension mounted, businesses shut down, and people became sick. Clients and patients became more difficult to handle, work hours increased as productivity and efficiency took a nosedive, and overwhelming appointment schedules were managed by skeleton teams. These stressors continued to snowball with the many pandemic problems, leaving veterinary professionals struggling and burned out. 

In addition to the mental and physical burden associated with working through a pandemic, time-consuming COVID protocols dragged veterinary professionals down. Veterinary teams want to help as many pets as possible in their time available, but social distancing and disinfecting methods slashed efficiency and productivity by almost 25%. Data from the AVMA Census of Veterinarians and Veterinary Practice Owners determined that a veterinarian who typically saw four patients per hour was now caring only for three. With an already overwhelming caseload, and more pet owners clamoring for appointments, veterinary teams were working harder than ever to overcome this huge productivity decrease.

Q: Why are veterinary appointments taking much longer?

A: Typically, a standard wellness appointment with no health concerns would take 20 to 30 minutes, but under curbside care protocols, that same appointment can now take more than an hour. The social distancing measures that were put in place to keep veterinary teams, patients, and clients safe and healthy greatly slowed down appointments. From being unable to find clients in the parking lot—who may have gone to the wrong veterinary hospital—to being unable to reach clients by phone to discuss physical exam and diagnostic test findings, the pandemic-driven situation was frustrating for all. Unfortunately, as we move back into our old routines, appointment times will still remain longer because of increased cleaning and disinfecting measures. And, during times of high infection rates, curbside-only care may again be implemented.

Q: Why is scheduling a wellness appointment in a day or two so difficult?

A: Wellness appointments used not to be scheduled months in advance—you could call the same week your pet was due for their annual exam and vaccinations, and easily secure an appointment on time—but that is no longer the case. Many veterinary hospitals have greatly extended calendars for wellness appointments, as they cannot squeeze in patients in a day or two, because of the huge backlog of wellness care cases that built up during the pandemic. When veterinary practices were shut down or forced to operate on reduced hours and skeleton crews, illnesses and injuries took precedence over wellness care. Annual physical exams, vaccinations, screening tests, and elective procedures were pushed back further and further, and the veterinary industry is still struggling to catch up.

Q: What can I do to help my veterinary team and my pet?

A: Now that you are aware how strained the veterinary industry is currently, and how we are not able to help as many pets as we’d like, we ask that you please remain kind and compassionate toward our team. If we had the resources and the capabilities, we would see each and every pet who needed our care, but the pandemic still has a stranglehold on our normal operations. To ensure your pet receives care when needed, follow these tips:

  • Schedule wellness care well in advance of the due date.
  • Monitor your pet closely for subtle abnormalities, and schedule an appointment at the first hint of illness, to prevent the issue from progressing to a serious problem.

By working together, we can help your pet receive the veterinary care they need, when they need it. Contact our Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team, to schedule an appointment.