A nationwide shortage of veterinarians is having Bay Area pet owners scrambling. Veterinary clinics are booked almost everywhere and patients are given priority even in critical cases.
Willow Glen Pet Hospital had seven staff members before the pandemic. Now they have 14 and that’s still not enough, saying they have to turn away patients almost every week.
Dr Rajbir Gillon and his team check around 45 pets every day, more than double the number they had two years ago.
“We are unable to accommodate all customers and pets that need to be seen and we are seeing a lot of customer frustration,” he said.
Research shows that some 23 million households adopted a pet during the pandemic without many new vets joining the ranks.
Which only added stress to what was already a shortage of vets across the country.
“Sometimes we refer patients to emergency clinics and they are so understaffed that they in turn have to refer them to other emergency clinics,” Gillon said.
Other pet clinics have reported experiencing the same.
“We’re fully booked just about every day,” said Katie Cihla, a veterinary technician at Oak Grove Veterinary Hospital.
This hospital has been seeking help for two years now and lack of staff has forced it to cancel or postpone surgeries.
And during emergencies, clients had to refer patients elsewhere.
“We’re pretty priced and I know if you go to the ER it can be thousands of extra dollars,” Cihla said.
It can be a financial burden for pet owners if they manage to get an appointment.
Many clinics have started to put patients first.
“If they haven’t eaten for a few days, it’s definitely something urgent, if they have a major injury that needs to be treated immediately,” Gillon said.
Experts attribute the shortage to the lack of veterinary schools, as well as the high cost of becoming a veterinarian and then maintaining a practice.
“People don’t want to leave school with $300,000 in debt,” said veterinarian Dr. Leroi Boldon.
Additionally, many vets retire early due to difficult careers.
“You know pets are part of your family,” Boldon said.