COVID-19 pet boom has veterinarians backlogged, burned out |

Only wicked pet

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — During the gloomiest stretches of the pandemic, Dr. Diona Krahn’s veterinary clinic has been a puppy fest, overrun with new four-legged patients. Typically, she’d get three or four new puppies a week, but between shelter adoptions and private purchases, the 2020 COVID-19 pet boom brought five […]

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — During the gloomiest stretches of the pandemic, Dr. Diona Krahn’s veterinary clinic has been a puppy fest, overrun with new four-legged patients.

Typically, she’d get three or four new puppies a week, but between shelter adoptions and private purchases, the 2020 COVID-19 pet boom brought five to seven new clients a day to her practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. Many are first-time pet owners.

Like many veterinarians across the country, she’s also been seeing more sick animals. To meet the demand, vets interviewed by The Associated Press have extended hours, hired additional staff and refused to take new patients, and they still can’t keep up. Burnout and fatigue are such a concern that some practices are hiring counselors to support their weary staffs.

“Everyone is working beyond capacity at this point,” said Krahn, who added evening hours last year.

Approximately 12.6 million U.S. households got a new pet last year after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, according to a COVID-19 Pulse Study by the American Pet Products Association.

Meanwhile, fewer people relinquished their pets in 2020, so they needed ongoing care, experts said. And as people worked from home and spent more time with their pets, they’ve had more opportunities to notice bumps, limps and other ailments that could typically go untreated.

Vets were already struggling to meet the pre-pandemic demand, with veterinary schools unable to churn out enough doctors and techs to fill the void.

Krahn left her North Carolina practice three months ago and now oversees nine veterinary and animal hospital clinics across Utah and Idaho under Pathway Vet Alliance.

“All of my practices are booking out several weeks in advance. Clients are actually calling around and scheduling appointments at multiple locations,” and even resorting to emergency care facilities, she said.

Banfield Pet Hospital, one of the largest national providers of preventive veterinary medicine, had approximately half a million more pet visits in 2020 than in 2019. And its telehealth service more than doubled in volume from March through the end of last year.

Thrive, another veterinary hospital primary care group, with 110 facilities across the U.S., reported a 20% increase in demand during the pandemic. Both 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 became powerless to the ones closest to them,” said Claire Pickens, a senior director at Thrive, “but the one thing they still had the ability to control was caring for their pet.”

Clinics have been forced to streamline, having patients fill out forms online or by phone pre-appointment because hiring additional staff often isn’t an option.

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