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Pet emergency rooms overwhelmed amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 11:52 AM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 15:13:28-04

Veterinary clinics are swamped right now. It's taking people four to six weeks to get see a vet in some cases.

That has pet owners turning to pet emergency rooms to get care faster, but now those ERs are overwhelmed as well.

It's a trend we're seeing nationwide.

“Come in at 10 o’clock, there's eight or 10 cars out in the parking lot, because they can't get into see their veterinarian,” said Dr. Pat Kennedy Arrington, owner of Jefferson Animal Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. “Really is a perfect storm of activity right now of difficulty. Normally, we slow down in August and we haven't slowed down.

While summer is typically a busy time for animal hospitals, Arrington says she’s seeing a lot of people she’s never seen before.

DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon, is seeing this demand as well. In July, their growth was up nearly 30% over the same time last year. In august it was still up 12%.

People are having to wait two to six hours with their pets, even up to 10 hours in some cases.

“The restriction for protocols of letting people in the building and staying outside and parking outside and having to do a lot of conversations over the phone, everything just takes longer to do,” said Ron Morgan, President and CEO of DoveLewis. “And that's in general practice too.”

“Most people are very gracious and appreciative that we're here and mad at their vet for not seeing them in some cases,” said Arrington. “It's unlike anything we've ever seen before.”

The number of people who have gotten pets during the pandemic is part of what is making them busier too. Also, with people at home more, they're noticing more potential issues with their pets.

Cost is something you need to be aware of. ER exam fees are typically a little higher than a regular vet visit.

Some hospitals offer financial assistance or care credit may be an option for you. It's a credit card you can apply for to use for pet expenses.

The demand at ERs is also taking a toll on the veterinarians and staff.

“So, I think psychologically right now, without that kind of ‘when is this going to slow down’ mentality, that adds to the burden no doubt,” said Morgan.

There was already a national staffing shortage in the industry before the pandemic, so that isn't helping the situation.

DoveLewis has a clinical social worker who's helping address the mental health needs of its staff.

Jefferson Animal Hospital has rewarded its staff extra pay during part of the pandemic.