VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Veterinarians across Hampton Roads are struggling to keep up with an increasing demand for care.
Doctors in the area tell 13News Now a nationwide veterinary shortage is overwhelming clinics and driving up wait times.
Dr. Barbara Sheffield owns Salem Veterinary Hospital in Virginia Beach and has experienced shortages.
“We really felt it when COVID hit,” said Dr. Sheffield. “People were adopting new pets.”
Dr. Sheffield said demands for service are taking a toll on practices around the area because there aren’t enough vets to go around.
“We have been looking for full-time veterinarians for several years now and it is difficult.”
Dr. Sheffield said she has noticed emergency vets are fielding the same challenges.
“You may go to an emergency and wait seven hours,” Dr. Sheffield said. “We have those kinds of waits here in VB.”
Now, she said she finds herself having to send pet owners to emergency hospitals farther away.
“We have some great ones in Suffolk, Williamsburg, and Richmond,” Dr. Sheffield said. “Sometimes the pet doesn’t have that long.”
Recently, Angie Dunston found herself racing from Gloucester to an emergency vet in Suffolk for her pup, Lil Bit.
“Just praying she wasn’t going to die en route,” Dunston said.
Dunston said her dog needed an emergency hysterectomy. She said there was a $3,600 deposit to get that surgery.
Fortunately, Dunston said her dog is recovering after the surgery. However, she says the cost is still impacting her family.
“At that point, I was like, you know if I have to go donate an organ or something, I am going to do what we have to do,” Dunston said.
The veterinary care gap is only going to grow wider according to MARS Veterinary Health, the world’s largest provider of veterinary care. Their research reports more than 40,000 new vets are needed to meet projected demand in 2030. It said nearly 2,000 baby boomer vets retire each year.
The research also said an average of 2,500 graduates are becoming veterinarians each year.
“We are trying our best to accommodate people, get them seen in a timely fashion,” said Dr. Nicholas Rinaldi.
Dr. Rinaldi works at BluePearl, an emergency vet hospital in Virginia Beach and he said the demand impacts staff mentally.
“We’ve seen a lot of vets leave the field, especially the ER. It is a very tough position to be in,” Dr. Rinaldi said.
It's a topic Dunston has heard before, as a licensed counselor.
“I have had clients that are vets, and they talk about the fact that it is very difficult to tell someone I don’t have any more openings,” Dunston said.
As vets deal with a larger workload, Dr. Sheffield encourages people to keep up with routine checkups and remain patient.
“If we are seeing an urgent case or a very sick animal, that takes time to run blood work, or do x-rays,” Dr. Sheffield said.
She’s hopeful more people will take on the challenge of joining the veterinary field.
“We all went into this because we love animals, and we love the diagnostic search and we just want to make their lives better,” Dr. Sheffield said.
For more information on how national organizations are working to combat the veterinarian shortfalls check this out.