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Why It May Be Getting Harder to Schedule Your Vet Appointment – A Deeper Look

Have you noticed it's getting tougher to get an appointment with your veterinarian? You're not alone. 


Many pet owners are experiencing longer wait times and scheduling challenges. But what's behind this trend? Let's look at some key facts that shed light on this situation.




The Growing Demand for Veterinary Care


In the pet care world, we're facing a notable challenge: a shortage of veterinarians. 


More and more households are opening their doors to pets, a sign of the growing responsibility and love for animal companions. As more families bring pets into their homes, however, the demand for veterinary services is skyrocketing. But here's the catch: there aren't enough vets to go around.


And it's not just about numbers: training a vet is a long, complex process that requires years of schooling as well as state-mandated testing requirements. Add to this the uneven spread of vets across different regions, and you've got some areas feeling the pinch more than others.


The pandemic only added fuel to the fire. With people adopting more pets while stuck at home, vet clinics were swamped. They faced not just more patients but also new operational challenges. 


The positive trend in pet ownership is wonderful: but also brings a higher demand for veterinary care, outpacing the current number of available veterinarians. It's a bit like our communities growing larger and more vibrant, but needing more service providers to keep everything running smoothly.


A Shortage of Veterinarians


This brings us to the crux of the issue: a shortage of veterinarians. The American Veterinary Medical Association reported about 124,000 vets in the country in 2022, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics presented a lower count, of just 89,500. 


One aspect complicating the count of veterinarians is that some are licensed in multiple states. Since veterinarian licenses are issued at the state level, a vet practicing in more than one state is counted multiple times in national statistics. This can lead to an overestimation of the total number of practicing veterinarians.


 Regardless of the exact number, it's clear we're facing a scarcity.



Pet Ownership Numbers


Just like it can be hard to count exactly how many veterinarians there are, it’s also very difficult to count the exact number of pets we have in our homes. 


Counting the number of households with pets is challenging due to varying definitions of pet ownership, the transient nature of pet ownership, and privacy concerns. Additionally, not all pets are officially registered, and survey methodologies can vary, leading to discrepancies in data. This complexity makes it difficult to get an exact count of pet-owning households.


Another challenge in counting households with pets is the lack of a centralized, comprehensive database or registry for pet ownership. Many pet owners don't register their pets with local or national databases, and pet ownership can frequently change due to various factors. Surveys and studies can provide estimates, but they may not capture the full picture, especially in areas with lower response rates or where pet ownership is less formalized. This variability and lack of uniform reporting standards contribute to the difficulty in obtaining accurate figures for pet-owning households.


What Does This Really Look Like? 


Let’s stick specifically with Ohio, as an example: 


As of the most recent data, about 38% of Ohio households own dogs, and approximately 31% have at least one cat. This suggests that a significant portion of Ohio's households include pets. 


It's important to note that these percentages are based on households owning these types of pets, not the total number of pets themselves. The actual number of pets would be higher since some households have multiple pets.


Here are some numbers** for you: 


Ohio's Total Households: As of the most recent census data, Ohio has approximately 4.8 million households (based on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2020 data).


Households with Dogs: 38% of Ohio households own dogs.

  • 4,800,000 households × 0.38 = 1,824,000 households with dogs.


Households with Cats: 31% of Ohio households own at least one cat.

  • 4,800,000 households × 0.31 = 1,488,000 households with cats.


It's important to note that there might be overlap, as some households could have both dogs and cats. But these calculations provide an estimate based on the available percentages.


So, to calculate the total number of households in Ohio with a pet:


  • As of the most recent data, Ohio has about 4.8 million households.

  • According to the APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 66% of U.S. households own a pet. Assuming Ohio aligns with this national average:

  • 4,800,000 households × 0.66 = 3,168,000 households with a pet.


So, out of approximately 4.8 million total households in Ohio, an estimated 3.168 million households have at least one pet.


And remember: that’s just in Ohio. 


Meanwhile, the total number of veterinarians in Ohio is approximately 3300 - with only a little over half of them (about 1800) seeing small animals (the kind of veterinarian you’d take your dog or cat to). The others care for livestock, horses, shelter animals, or a number of other professions where a vet’s skills are necessary, even though they aren’t seeing small animal patients. 




Efforts to Increase Veterinary Professionals


In response, educational institutions are stepping up: about a dozen new veterinary schools are in the pipeline, which could increase the total number of practicing veterinarians by a third. This is a significant effort to bolster the workforce of animal healthcare professionals.


What Does This Mean for You?


So, next time you're struggling to book a vet appointment, remember: it's a reflection of a broader challenge. And this doesn’t even touch on overall staffing issues due to lack of registered techs and an overall lack of workforce due to COVID, which adds an additional layer to the difficulty accommodating patient and client needs. It’s a complex, multi-faceted issue, with no fast or simple solution. 


The good news is that efforts are underway to address the shortage of veterinarians: but it will take time. Meanwhile, we all need to be a bit more patient and plan our pet care needs well in advance, as often as we can (especially for prescriptions: make sure you’re requesting them well in advance!).


This situation also underscores the importance of our pet care professionals and the vital role they play in keeping our furry family members healthy and happy.


Need a quick recap? Here are some Key Takeaways:


  • Vet Shortage: There's a general belief that the U.S. is facing a shortage of veterinarians.

  • Educational Response: To address this, around 12 new veterinary schools are being planned, significantly increasing the current count of 33.

  • Uncertain Numbers: It's hard to pinpoint how many vets are currently working or how many more are needed, with estimates ranging from around 89,500 to 124,000.

  • Counting Complexities: The count of vets is complicated by factors like vets being licensed in multiple states and special categories like military vets, potentially leading to an overestimation. The true number might be closer to 119,000 rather than the reported 160,913.

  • Patience and Planning are Key: Make sure you’re doing your best to schedule routine care for your pets ahead of time. Also, be sure to get in touch with your vet office as soon as possible, when issues crop up - instead of waiting until they worsen.

  • Plan Ahead When Possible: Request your prescriptions in advance, to make sure you don’t run out! We need 24-48 hours’ notice for most refills, but practices and providers will vary. Also, be sure to schedule your regular or routine appointments in advance, so you can get in when you need.


 

**The data indicating that 38% of Ohio households own dogs and 31% own at least one cat is from this source, updated in 2024​​ https://petkeen.com/pet-ownership-statistics-in-ohio/  


Additionally, the broader statistic that 66% of U.S. households own a pet is from the 2023-2024 APPA National Pet Owners Survey https://www.americanpetproducts.org/news/News-Public-Relations/pet-industry-market-size-trends-ownership-statistics 


Veterinarian statistics and a correlation of the household pet data come from https://vet.osu.edu/sites/vet.osu.edu/files/documents/about/Economic%20%26%20Social%20Impacts%20Vet%20Med%202018.pdf 

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