Area pets await care as veterinarians battle backlogs and staff shortages

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — The the average number of veterinarian appointments increased 4.5% between 2019 and 2021, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The La Crosse area mirrors the fact that many of those appointments are backlogged. At the beginning of the pandemic, veterinary care providers were declared essential, but only for urgent appointments.

“We postponed wellness care for a couple months on a bunch of pets, so that created a large backlog that you need to catch up with at some point,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, a veterinarian at Central Animal Hospital in Onalaska.

As things opened up, more and more services became available again. But Kratt found that, in addition to the backlog, his clinic couldn’t work as efficiently as usual.

“Pre-pandemic, we would frequently be able to get people in the same week. Sometimes same day, but same week. Now, there’s times that we are booking out two to three weeks,” Kratt said.

People adopted pets throughout the pandemic that needed care that they were unable to access immediately.

“It’s the adoption exams and the new puppy, kitten, exams that really are very, very important, so we can talk about proper nutrition and proper care for these pets to try to prevent the urgent cares, potentially,” Kratt said.

Though new pets were adopted, the bigger cause of appointment influx stemmed from time spent at home.

“A lot of people spend more time with their pets, then, so they would see more things that might be an issue. There might be more limping, there might be that new lump,” Kratt said.

Beyond the influx of patients, veterinary offices are also facing a worker shortage. Central Animal Hospital is short five staffers.

“The stressors on the veterinary community, as really almost any industry — that’s not a new phenomenon. I think it was accentuated because of COVID,” Kratt said.

This is space that Kratt hopes they can fill soon. Though AVMA reports that COVID-19 precautions limited productivity and team efficiency. Kratt says his clinic’s implementation of telehealth visits have helped fill some of those gaps.

Kratt says he advises clients to schedule appointments out for pets long before they are needed to ensure those problems are caught before they happen.

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