Ask Dr. Jenn: Why has it Been so Difficult to Schedule a Veterinarian Appointment?
I called my veterinarian’s office to try to make an appointment for my dog’s ear infection. They said their next appointment is in ten days. I called other vet clinics in the area, and they aren’t even taking new patients. My friend said her cat’s wellness appointment was scheduled two months out. We used to be able to get an appointment within a day or two. What is going on?
You are not alone in your frustration. Veterinary clinics all over the US, Canada, and other parts of the world are swamped right now with more patients than we can see in a day. Several factors are contributing, and they have all come together to create the perfect storm for pets and veterinary care teams.
In the US alone, it is estimated that 11.38 million homes added a new pet to the household during the pandemic. That number is about three times higher than before the pandemic. While we think it is incredible that the shelters are being cleared out and so many dogs and cats have found their forever homes, it also means we have three times the number of new patients we need to see each year.
The increased demand for veterinary visits is not just due to new pets. With many people working from home and children participating in distance learning, our pets are getting more attention than ever. More attention means that medical and behavioral problems that often go unnoticed prompt a call to the veterinarian.
More time with your pet also means the human-animal bond is stronger, and COVID has changed many people’s priorities. Clients are more willing to spend money at the veterinarian for diagnostic tests and advanced treatment. The ability to do additional tests and treatments makes veterinarians better able to help our patients. Still, it also means we are spending more time on each appointment, further adding to the backlog. We need time to perform the necessary tests, interpret the results, and explain the results and diagnoses to our clients. We want to give all of our patients the attention they need, but that may mean we see fewer patients in a day than in the past.
Also adding to the strain is the lack of veterinary professionals. More and more veterinary technicians/veterinary nurses and veterinarians are leaving the profession. The combination of stress that comes with the job, long hours, and lower wages has driven many from the field. Those left are feeling the strain of constantly being overworked and understaffed, creating a vicious cycle.
If you add it all together: a much larger pet population, more pet visits, more advanced care, and a decline in veterinary team members, hopefully, you can understand why your veterinary may not be able to fit you in as quickly as we did in the past.
Now that you understand the situation, what can you do to help?
Plan ahead. Know what paperwork and vaccines are necessary if you plan to kennel your dog or take him with you on a trip. If possible, call at least a month or two ahead of time for an appointment. Don’t let your lack of planning become our emergency.
Call right away if you notice a concern with your pet, such as a decrease in appetite, change in urinary habits, or the start of skin or ear problem. Don’t wait until you are about to go out of town and want to make sure Fluffy is okay before you leave.
Give your veterinary team all the information they need to triage your pet’s condition. If they can’t see your pet for a week, ask what you can do at home. Also, inquire if telemedicine is an option. Many clinics are offering this as an alternative to an in-clinic visit. We don’t currently provide telemedicine appointments at my clinic but often have clients text pictures and videos. This helps us determine if the pet needs to be seen right away, if there is a treatment we can offer, or if the pet parent can monitor.
Once you make an appointment, please be on time. If your pet’s condition has improved, please call to cancel, giving plenty of notice so that another animal on the clinic’s waiting list can take your pet’s appointment. Although it may provide the veterinary clinic some breathing time if you call five minutes before your appointment and say that Fluffy is better, it doesn’t help ease the burden for all the other pets that need to be seen.
Be patient with your veterinary team. We are working harder than ever to help as many pets as possible while still keeping ourselves, our teams, and our clients healthy and safe. If your clinic is still making curbside appointments, respect that they have their reasons. If they are taking appointments in the building again, respect their mask and hygiene rules.
Also, please know that your veterinary team cares about you and your pet. We understand your frustration and will do our best to help you. Veterinarians, veterinary team members, and pet parents need to continue to work together to help keep our furry friends healthy and happy.