“There were no appointments available,” says Garrett, sounding annoyed at the thought of driving 45 minutes or more to an emergency clinic, torturing her dogs in the car, and ending them in a place she wouldn’t know Veterinary team. “They couldn’t see her. All I could get was a due date. You bring the dog in at 8am, you pay a boarding fee, and the dog stays there all day. The vet basically sees the dog when they have a minute between other appointments. “
Garrett’s dogs both had no serious problems – one needed nausea medication and the other had a minor gastrointestinal problem – but their experience and frustration reflect what countless other pet owners around the country other than the Covid-19 Pandemic marches describe on.
The American Veterinary Medical Association says a combination of factors make it difficult for some pet owners to book timely veterinary appointments with the practices they know and trust.
For starters, there’s the ongoing craze for purchasing puppies, which means a lot more new customers than usual are trying to sign up for appointments for basic exams and shots. Then there are all of the existing pet owners who postponed routine visits earlier this year for fear for their own health when covid-19 first showed up. According to AVMA, visits to existing customers fell by about 25 percent in March and April when the pandemic first broke out. Many of these people’s pets are running out of booster vaccinations and the like and must now see their vets.
Plus, tons of people work from home, which means they spend more time with their pets and notice potential issues for veterinarians to investigate. Additionally, due to new protocols, veterinary visits are taking longer to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus.
“I think it’s a bit regional,” says Douglas Kratt, president of AVMA and owner of Central Animal Hospital in Onalaska, Wisconsin. “As I have spoken to some of my colleagues across the country, some of them see that it is us.” have longer waiting times. I know my personal practice. If it’s a scheduled wellness exam, it might not be the same week. And depending on how exactly you want – if you’re a Thursday night person – this could take more than a week. For urgent treatment, like a normal pet with abdominal discomfort or vomiting, it can take a few days, sometimes a few long days, to get on. “
For those given an appointment, the latest data from AVMA only shows an average increase in waiting times at the vet of two to five minutes. While these time increments can build up over the course of the day to keep some animals and their owners waiting longer than others, they are not an extreme change from pre-pandemic waiting times.
According to Kratt, veterinarians are using everything from video services to digital communications to expedite access. Around 80 percent of the veterinary clinics surveyed by AVMA now offer roadside care. two thirds offer contactless payment; and more than a third now offer telemedicine as an option. As with humans, there were visits to telemedicine before the pandemic, but they have gotten off the ground since then.
The opportunities that veterinarians have for alternative settings are also increasing. Firms like GuardianVets, based in Chicago, TeleVet, based in Austin, Texas, and Airvet, based in Beverly Hills, California, are among the many companies that are now offering app-based services to speed roadside delivery communication and pet owners faster connect with veterinarians.
For roadside appointments, a member of staff comes out to get the pet, does the exam, and then calls the pet owner in the car to review the results before bringing the pet back out. Some of the apps connect to the exam room via live video, so you can schedule the regular appointment without the vet having to do the exam and then recite everything she just did in a subsequent phone call. This can save five to 10 minutes per appointment as there is no need to call after the exam.
“I tell people when the wait is there and they have questions, contact the vet,” says Kratt. “The telephone is one possibility. Some vets send text messages and emails. There is telehealth. Instead of a 40-minute appointment [that an owner might have to wait days for]Perhaps you can do this much faster through telemedicine. “
Most pet owners seem to understand that vets, like everyone else, are trying to find new ways to do things as the pandemic continues. But frustration, pet owners say, can quickly lead to serious concern and even panic when an animal is in distress.
Jackie Wolf of Montclair, New Jersey, had the same experience as Garrett in October. Wolf’s 2-year-old dog Denny, whom she calls a Puerto Rican mutt, had a stomach problem. “This is not like a spa visit or recordings,” says Wolf. “He was really, really sick.”
Her vet said the first available appointment was in a week and a half.
“You can’t wait that long for something to be really wrong, so I ended up with a vet I’ve never gone to who could bring me in,” she says. “I am not a legitimate person yelling, ‘My dog this and that! ‘I know everyone is trying to find out all of this. It would be nice if there was a way to keep sick hours going. Especially if you have a sick pet, you want to let them see. “
Customers like Wolf get into the general rush. Kratt says his practice saw patients in early November who should be coming for spa visits as early as May. Adding to the mix of appointment requests were people preparing to move into winter cottages so they could continue to go outside with their pets in temperate weather rather than holding on inside in case new pandemic lockdowns became the norm.
“Some people now have to move to winter cottages in warmer climates and need vaccines to travel,” he says.
The good news is that there are no widespread reports of pets being left untreated, says AVMA spokesman Michael San Filippo. There have been reports of delays and frustrations from having to go to emergency clinics instead of regular veterinarians, but overall, people’s pets are getting the care they need.
The combination of factors preventing customers from getting quick appointments with their regular veterinarians is leading emergency clinics across the country to see an increase in requests for help.
“Our emergency and intensive care teams are busier than ever,” said Sarah Berger, vice president of marketing at MedVet in Ohio, which operates a network of 30 emergency and specialty hospitals in 15 states. “Compared to last year, it is 20 to 30 percent busier. This applies to all of our hospitals. There are varying degrees of it, but there is a substantial increase everywhere. “
One of the cases MedVet sees facilities include delayed teeth cleaning that causes bigger problems. Puppies who are not vaccinated in a timely manner and then become infected with diseases such as parvo (canine parvovirus), a highly contagious virus that can be life threatening; Dogs eat things they shouldn’t eat or that get hurt because families are home and get more active – let’s say kids jump off bed and Fido jumps too and injures a knee.
“And our cat friends are stressed,” she says. “Cats are lonely. They all say, “What are you doing here all day?” We see a lot of urinary problems and things that are often caused by stress. “
San Filippo says vets and owners are doing the best they can, recognizing that “we are all in it together. We see pet owners who understand and are patient with the demands veterinarians face. We don’t see pets left untreated. “
Garrett says her plan for the future is to schedule an appointment with her regular veterinarian at the first sign of trouble, much earlier than she would have thought asking for a timeframe in the past.
“If I have any concerns, I just call and make an appointment and then cancel if I have to,” she says. “I’ve never had to wait. It’s crazy.”
Earlier versions of this article misidentified the titles of MedVet clinic staff in the captions. All are veterinary assistants. Their names have also been added to the captions.