Veterinarians feel strain of animal adoptions during COVID-19

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If you think getting a dog to sit and stay can be difficult, try getting a concerned pet owner to do the same.

Many lonely Americans cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic bought new pets or forged closer bonds with the pets they already had. Now veterinary agencies are seeing their business spike, resulting in longer waiting times for sick animals.

“It’s a zoo,” said Dr. Ian Scholer of Hill Top Animal Hospital in Evans. “It’s definitely not what I was preparing for in March 2020 when this all started.”

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In fact, Scholer and his staff braced themselves for the opposite: “Because we thought no one was going anywhere, people were being laid off, so we thought people would likely reduce their veterinary care,” he said.

Instead, it rained cats and dogs.

A study conducted by the American Pet Products Association found that more than 11 million U.S. households got new pets during the pandemic. Additionally, three out of four owners said they experienced less stress after spending time with their pets.

But the owners felt more stressed after spending time in veterinarian waiting rooms and parking lots. Scholer said he spoke to colleagues whose practices were similarly overwhelmed.

“At the beginning of the day we always had at least one or two appointment windows free. If there wasn’t an appointment, we would probably see eight to ten unscheduled appointments during the day, ”said Scholer. “Now I haven’t had a vacancy on my schedule for three weeks, and we’re likely to see 20-25 unplanned positions today.”

Shortages in veterinary clinics soon led to similar problems in emergency animal clinics, he said.

“They usually have a smaller team and there are usually one or maybe two doctors. Then the people started burning out there, ”said Scholer. “When that happened, even the specialty hospitals like the University of Georgia and there are a few in Columbia (SC) started getting overhauled and overbooked.”

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More animals, more attention

Since May, Dr. Autumn Vetter Assistant Professor at the Community Practice Clinic at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens. Prior to that, she worked in both a general veterinary office and an emergency room in Florida, experiencing the effects of the pandemic on pets and owners in these care settings.

While some veterinary practices were temporarily closed to regroup under COVID conditions, the emergency rooms remained open.

“That’s why the number of cases we’ve seen has definitely increased during this time,” said Vetter. “We all expected it to get back to normal after the first few weeks, and then it isn’t anymore. It remained very, very high. It was a wild time. ”

When she switched to a general practice, the number of new customers rose sharply.

“Overall, I think it’s a really great thing that people have started adopting more animals, especially from animal shelters during the pandemic. We as veterinarians recommend this just because you are saving an animal that might otherwise be in borrowed time, ”said Vetter. “Perhaps something people need to consider when adopting a pet is what it costs and that emergencies happen.”

Spending more time with pets often results in owners becoming overly vigilant about the health of the animals, which can be beneficial, she said. For example, cats are notorious for hiding a disease until it’s beyond effective treatment.

“It can swing the other way too,” said Vetter. “I remember one particularly busy day in the emergency room and we all joked, ‘People have to go back to work and stop staring at their animals because nothing is wrong.'”

Still, she said, “this is a good thing in many ways” because it allows owners to identify symptoms “probably sooner than usual” than if they spent more time outside.

Frustration felt both ways

Dog breeder Susan Darling was parked at Hill Top Animal Hospital with her French bulldog Winnie last Tuesday, waiting for test results on Winnie’s progesterone levels. Darling said her vet waits rarely exceed an hour, but she can understand how long waits can result in shorter temperaments in some pet owners.

“When you come to the vet, it’s usually an emergency,” she said. “Everyone is at home more often, they are more attached to their dogs, they pay more attention and don’t know what to expect. Then when you see something that is not normal, fur babies are like family, so we expect everyone to love our babies as we do. ”

Some owners who put up with long waits share their frustrations online. Veterinary practices in Augusta tend to have overwhelmingly positive Google reviews, but there are outliers, for example from a cat owner who complained about a 45-minute wait at the Care More Animal Hospital in Martinez last October.

“My poor little boy was so hot in the car, despite the full air, that his fluffy paws were wet with sweat,” wrote the owner.

Due to the strong increase in customer base, Care More has published a notice on its website to assure visitors that they will accommodate pets as soon as possible: “We now book regular appointments, but we are booked well in advance, especially for operations and operations Vaccination appointments so please be patient as we will all take them in asap. Our phone lines are also heavily used, so be patient, as the waiting times can be longer than normal, ”the message says in part.

Some pet owners even take their frustrations out on overwhelmed staff, but Scholer said anger won’t speed up the waiting process, and particularly angry customers have been asked to leave permanently.

“We understand the frustration and are frustrated too. We don’t like to keep people waiting, ”he said. “There is only a certain amount of behavior that we can tolerate before we have to tell you, ‘Just don’t come here anymore.’ You can’t come here and treat my staff like that. It’s not okay. You’re already going through a lot. ”

Vetter said demand hits the veterinary profession at a particularly difficult time when technicians and nurses are scarce.

“Those in the office definitely feel overworked because we need more and just don’t have them,” she said.

For now, Scholer and other vets ask their patients for patience.

“I wish there was a solution I could offer,” he said. “I wish I could say, ‘Hey, if we all get together and do this, things can get better.’ But I think it will just take time. ”