At Lone Mountain Veterinary Hospital, customers were not allowed to go inside with their pets during the pandemic, but they can track the appointment from their car on an iPad. Courtesy photo
Wednesday May 5, 2021
From elective surgery cancellations to delays in routine care, the healthcare industry has been financially hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
For the healthcare system that treats cats and dogs, that’s not so much the case – business for the veterinary industry is booming.
VetSuccess, which collects financial data from 2,800 veterinary clinics in the United States, estimates sales in February 2021 were up 12% compared to February 2020, the month before the pandemic.
VetSuccess scaled down all of 2020 and reported that sales across the industry were up 7% compared to 2019. According to the latest statistics, sales in the industry increased by around 9.9% in the last 12 months from April 2020 to April 2021.
“The most notable challenge is how busy each veterinary clinic is,” Margie Quirk, owner of Lone Mountain Veterinary Hospital in Carson City, told the NNBW in mid-April. “I can’t remember being as busy during this pandemic as I am now. It’s crazy busy. “
Quirk said Lone Mountain has been so overwhelmed with phone calls from pet owners that they are booking three weeks for routine appointments. Prior to COVID, the longest wait for an appointment at the Carson City Veterinary Clinic was a week.
Lone Mountain is not alone. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average waiting time in veterinary offices in the US nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020.
Some of the demand for veterinary services, Quirk said, could be traced back to “pandemic puppies and kittens” – people who adopt pets for companions while they are cooped up during quarantine.
Additionally, the shift to remote working and the lack of travel have given many the opportunity to bring new pets home and look after them.
To that end, Shelter Animals Count, which operates a database that tracks shelter and rescue activity across the country, recorded 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in 2019 – an increase of about 15%.
Additionally, Quirk said that spending more time at home with pets has likely resulted in pet owners paying more attention to the health and wellbeing of their cats and dogs.
“Maybe you noticed a lump on your dog that you had never felt before, or you noticed how bad your breath is and maybe you had to get a teeth check,” Quirk said. “I think just spending more time with pets has made people a little more attentive.”
And pet owners seem to have decided the pandemic won’t stop them from keeping their cats and dogs healthy. Although most veterinary clinics do not allow owners to go indoors with their pets due to COVID safety protocols, Lone Mountain has taken steps to virtually and literally offer a window into their on-site care.
In addition to offering telemedicine appointments, Lone Mountain offers owners the option to use an iPad in their car so they can keep track of their pet’s wellness and vaccination visits. The clinic also has outdoor chairs near windows that look into an exam room.
“This is the best path we could take in and I would say the majority of customers are very understanding,” said Quirk.
However, given the surge in vaccinations and the decline in COVID cases, Quirk said some customers don’t understand the hospital’s no-owner policy as well.
“We get a little more grumpy people almost asking to come into the building,” Quirk said. “And I’m not going to allow that to happen yet. I have 20 employees that I am responsible for and they are my top priority. “
Quirk said she has no schedule as to when Lone Mountain will let customers back into the building.
Right now it’s not slowing down business for the veterinary clinic. Last March alone, Lone Mountain sales rose 40% compared to a typical month, Quirk said.
“It was actually our biggest month in well over four years,” she continued. “To be honest, I don’t think it’s going to fall off the way it went anytime soon. I think we’ll wait and see what happens to COVID and see if things get back to normal.
“It’s going to be an interesting rest of the year.”