ORLANDO, Fla. — With more people staying home during the coronavirus pandemic and playing closer attention to their dogs and cats, the need for veterinary care is booming right now.
That and other factors which arose before the virus emerged are fueling the need for thousands of new workers at animal clinics across the U.S.
According to an April 2020 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary jobs are expected to grow by 18% from 2018 to 2028, with 15,600 new jobs added. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did not specify what kind of veterinary jobs will be added.
As veterinary students graduate in the spring, the shortages can wane, but according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 20% of veterinarians are expected to retire in the next decade.
“We did have a shortage of veterinarians [even] before the pandemic,” said Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community, which has its headquarters in Orlando. “There’s still an incredible need for veterinarians.”
During the pandemic, people are spending more time with their pets and are catching more minor symptoms or abnormalities that they weren’t noticing when they were working away from home.
“Treatment options for things like heart disease and kidney disease, and even cancer, are really increasing,” Varble said. “They’re not all cost prohibitive anymore, we’re seeing people really be able to afford these things as medical advancement changes.”
Varble said Banfield Pet Hospital, a major pet care company, recently did a study and showed that 20% of people are more willing to do preventative care for their pet now than they were before the pandemic.
“When you know you have limited funds, where are you willing to spend them? Right now people are willing to spend them on their pets,” Varble said.
Throughout the pandemic, veterinary practices were considered an essential business, but because elective procedures weren’t being done, business slowed down a small bit. This has rebounded as elective procedures and preventative procedures are being added back into their schedules.
“Pretty much every veterinarian I know is completely busy, every day,” Varble said.
Varble said increased demand also comes from pet owners mostly just needing more care due to larger number of pets per household and more households with pets than ever before. People often have more than one pet now.
These household pets are also living longer than before, which means they’re needing care for longer and the types of care they are receiving are expanding as they get older. They need more veterinary care for more senior conditions.
Despite the trend, Orange County Animal Services has not reported an increase in adoptions, though they have been seeing a decrease of owner surrenders.
In June there were a reported 193 owner surrenders and a total of 542 adoptions.
Recently, someone called asking about a dog named Honeydew. Summers said there was nothing particularly unique about Honeydew, but when the person saw the pooch, she started crying.
“Something about her face was like a lightbulb for her,” Summers said. “There was something about her expression and the look in her eyes that she just felt so drawn to her.”
Varble said some shelters in Florida were seeing high adoption rates.
“During times of high stress, animals can be a comfort to us, they can help our mental health and even our physical health,” Varble said. “We’re in times of stress, and a lot of folks took advantage of the comfort they are to us.”
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