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Animal hospitals seeing ripple effect from record pet adoptions during pandemic

VCA Valley Animal Hospital in Tucson is reporting more new patients in 2020 than three years prior.
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 7:08 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pet adoptions during the quarantine were at an all-time high and now animal hospitals say they’re seeing the ripple effect.

VCA Animal Hospitals, which has several locations in Tucson, reported seeing more new patients in 2020 than three years prior. Marie Kerl, Chief Medical Officer of VCA Animal Hospitals, said the increase in animals has resulted in a need for increased staff. VCA has hired more than 5,400 hospital-based positions this year and Kerl said they still have hundreds of positions to fill.

“We’re in a very unusual time. I have been practicing for more than 25-years and nobody in the industry has ever seen anything like this,” Kerl said. “All veterinary hospitals, ours included, are extremely busy right now.”

Kerl said it’s been hard to work in their practices, because there is not enough people with appropriate credentials.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association between January 2019 and May 2021, there were 18 positions open for every veterinarian seeking a job.

“We had a shortage before the pandemic started, and it’s even worse now because there’s an increased demand for service,” Kerl said.

Kerl said their hospitals are noticing more owners taking pets to the emergency room for routine visits, because they can’t get an appointment for routine check-ups. She said another reason for the surge in emergency room visits could be due to work from home, because owners are noticing health problems in pets at a quicker rate.

In 2019, VCA Valley Animal Hospital reported seeing 2,836 ER exams in Tucson. In 2020, those ER exams rose to 5,446. Now, in 2021, they’ve already seen 6,987.

Kerl said the way to combat that problem is by making appointments in advance because it could take your pet weeks to get in for an appointment.

“That serves you well if you have an emergency situation as well because most veterinarian hospitals reserve a couple of appointments open each day for their patients who have to get in right away,” Kerl said.

VCA is also seeing a few owners who can’t financially care for their pets after adopting them during the pandemic. If you’re in that category, they have some payment plans that may cater to you.

“Cost is a consistent theme in veterinary medicine, and again if you can work with your primary care veterinarian, it is more expensive to staff and equip an emergency hospital that is open 24 hours a day,” Kerl said. “Within VCA we have a program called Care Club that allows you to have a predictable amount you pay monthly that covers services pets need for preventable care. That comes with a discount associated with it.”

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