Pets In The Age Of COVID-19

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In the past year of the pandemic, I have witnessed a remarkable shift in the increased number of people who own pets, in addition to family’s and individuals’ view of the importance of the role pets play in their lives. During a time when human contact was so limited for so many, it was often pets that provided the companionship and physical contact that is so crucial to human emotional well being. This was especially true of people at most risk of death or serious complication from COVID-19, either seniors or people of all ages that lived with co-morbidities that were the most restricted from human contact.

In some states and cities that invoked the most restrictive COVID-19 measures and for those whose jobs were not considered essential and were at home furloughed or let go, their dogs were their only means to simply leave the house for weeks to months; given one of the few exception for people to leave the home for pets to be exercised and allowed to eliminate outside. Thus, in so many ways, pets provided not only the basic human need for companionship, but a justifiable reason to simply step outside of the home.

As previously mentioned, the number of pets owned by people has increased dramatically in the past year. Given so much free time for many people to finally take the plunge to raise that new puppy or kitten, new pet numbers surged this year. In my county, there were reports of hours long lines at the shelter with people (properly donning masks and socially distanced of course) waiting for the opportunity to adopt a new pet.

All of the above took the veterinary profession by storm with surges of new patients many clinics (both of mine included) unprepared with too few doctors and support staff to handle the capacity. We are currently faced with a veterinary industry growth that new graduate numbers, both doctors and technicians, are not keeping up with the demand for more of them. Subsequently, most clinics are running with doctor and staff deficiencies.

On one hand we are all grateful that while much of the general work force has faced so much economic hardship that we enjoy very strong job security, on the other hand, we are looking at a veterinary medical force that is increasingly overworked and overwhelmed. Add in most clinics offering curbside service only while our populace still struggles to get vaccination numbers to the extent that COVID-19 herd immunity is achieved, and that is the perfect recipe for mental and physical exhaustion at the end of each work day.

We are faced with the juxtaposition that most of us are thrilled that people are seeing the value of pets as family members at no greater time in history and please that people are seeing the value of their veterinary health professionals like no other time in history; with the back drop of also hoping that there can one day be a better balance where we can enjoy the enhanced love of pets paradigm that COVID-19 brought us, have good employment security, but once again perhaps occasionally have a moment to breathe at work.

At any rate, enjoy your new found appreciation of pets and may that never end. While the veterinary profession struggles to catch up, please also be patient. We want nothing more than to get your pet in to be seen, but please always understand that during these exceptionally busy times, we must prioritize those whose lives are most at risk.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. He is the author of The Man In The White Coat: A Veterinarian’s Tail Of Love. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , general partner of Grant Animal Clinic, and runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.  Dr. Welton fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.