Vet clinics crippled by staffing shortages and pandemic pet boom

Vet clinics are getting slammed with new pet patients as they’re coping with staffing shortages. It means pets and their owners are having to wait weeks for an appointment when something is wrong, and some are even getting turned away.

BluePearl Pet Hospital in North Seattle shut down its emergency services in late June. An employee said the shutdown was because of staffing challenges.

Longtime veterinarians said they’ve never been this busy and want people to know what to expect if their pets get sick.

“We just feel like we’re drowning,” said Elizabeth Clark, a veterinary hospital manager at Ballard Animal Hospital.

“We want to help everyone. We just physically can’t with our resources right now. There is a shortage of vets and licensed vet techs,” she said.

The problem is compounded by a surge of people adopting pets during the pandemic.

“There’s just been an explosion of pets since COVID has struck,” Clark said.

“It’s just been really busy — busiest I’ve ever been in my 20 years,” said Dr. Renee Berry, a veterinarian at the Ballard Animal Hospital.

Kaylyn Colon, a pet owner from Everett, struggled to find an appointment for her dog, Luna. Her pup is dealing with ear trouble that’s leading to scratching and scabbing.

“I couldn’t get an appointment for over a month, and they gave me a list of other possibilities. So I called multiple locations, and everyone was like, ‘Try this one; try this one,’” Colon said.

She said after an hour of calling around, she finally found Urban Animal in Seattle, a walk-up clinic.

It’s just one example of how the veterinary industry is facing unprecedented challenges.

Ballard Animal Hospital stated it — and many others — has been forced to stop accepting new patients. Even still, appointments that could be booked two or three days out before the pandemic are now booking four to six weeks in advance.

The problems are also impacting emergency animal hospitals.

BluePearl, an emergency hospital in North Seattle, shut down its emergency room service in late June because of staffing shortages, according to an employee. Its website currently indicates emergency services are “temporarily unavailable.”

The Animal Medical Center in Shoreline, which also provides emergency services, stated on busy days that people are waiting six to eight hours for emergencies. Pets still get triaged right away but may not be treated immediately, and pet owners must wait in their cars in the parking lot.

“Truly the most heartbreaking thing right now is saying ‘no’ when they need your help,” Clark said. “Sometimes, we’re the 13th clinic they’ve called, the 24th.”

“There are so many reports of people not being able to get in an emergency and their pets passing away,” she said.

Adding to the problem, multiple veterinary hospitals stated they are also coping with rude patients.

“We’ve just seen a huge uptick in verbal abuse and disrespect,” Clark said.

The staff members want you to know they are trying their best in a tough situation.

“The most important thing for me to tell people is patience and kindness go such a long way. I get emotional about it because our teams are working so hard, and we just would appreciate a little understanding and kindness,” Clark said.

Clark recommends pet owners book an appointment as soon as they notice something off about their pet — and don’t wait until a small issue becomes an emergency.