If your pet needs to go to the doctor and you don’t have an appointment, bring your patience.
Faye Evans cat, Jacoby, wasn’t eating on Thursday morning. She got up at 8 a.m. and started calling primary care doctors to see if they could fit her in.
"They’re booked until January. So I had to come to the emergency vet today," Evans said, "It’s frustrating, to say the least. It’s very frustrating."
At the Friendship Hospital for Animals, an emergency vet, it’s nonstop. Dr. Christine Klippen says she’s working harder than she ever has in her career.
"It’s definitely the busiest I’ve ever been," Klippen said.
Evans waited about 90 minutes to have Jacoby see a doctor at Friendship Hospital For Animals. FOX 5 spoke with another woman who wound up staying over hours for her dog Barry to be seen for an infection on his paw.
Klippen says there are multiple factors at play – first is the pandemic. Many families put off checkups or routine maintenance for their pets, and are starting to come back. However, primary care doctors are pretty booked up right now.
"A lot of places are booked four and eight weeks in advance, so it doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for those day-to-day emergencies," Klippen says.
When families can’t get into a primary care doctor right away, that leads them to an emergency room. Klippen has to triage those with the most immediate needs, leading to some frustrated owners.
This creates an inefficiency the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, says hurts the ability to see patients quickly.
Another key factor: The stress this all creates. Dr. Matthew Salois, quoted in an AMVA article, estimates the turnover rate for veterinarians to be around 15%.
Part of the turnover is due to high-stress environments as pet owners care deeply for their animals and sometimes have to make life-or-death choices based on what a veterinarian tells them.
Virginia Tech veterinary school Social Worker Trish Haak says veterinarians have a tough job, made even tougher by this current environment.
"They’re not only wearing their doctor hat, they’re also wearing their counselor hat, their chaplain hat, their funeral director hat. They see death on a more frequent basis because the lifespan is a lot shorter," Haak says.
Virginia Tech has added resources for veterinary students to help them cope with the emotional toll of the job.
Dr. Klippen says the best thing a pet owner can do is be patient with them as they work through this.
"Come with patience, you know, we are not dictating these wait-times on purpose. It is kind of a response to things coming in the door," Klippen said.