'It's scary': National vet shortage impacting Bay Area animal hospitals

ByMelanie Woodrow KGO logo
Thursday, September 9, 2021
National vet shortage impacts Bay Area animal hospitals
A national veterinarian and nurse shortage is being felt here in the Bay Area, with some hospitals having to reduce emergency services.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A national veterinarian and nurse shortage is being felt here in the Bay Area, with some hospitals having to reduce emergency services.

When Jack Jack's mom moved across the country so did he.

"About two months ago started looking for a vet in the neighborhood and I couldn't find a single vet in the city right now that's taking on new animals, especially not one the size of my dog," said Lauren Avenius who now lives in San Francisco.

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Avenius is experiencing the effects of a nationwide veterinarian shortage first hand.

Dr. Jennifer Scarlett is President of the San Francisco SPCA.

"I'm really worried," said Dr. Scarlett.

She says the shortage of veterinarians and veterinarian nurses is not specific to the SFSPCA, or even to the Bay Area.

"We're not alone in this," she continued.

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She attributes the shortage of veterinarians to the number matriculating in annually verse the number retiring, and says attrition is also one of the main factors for the nurse shortage.

"The average career lifespan of a veterinary nurse is only five years," said Dr. Scarlett.

Add COVID into the mix and now the employees who are working, can't work at maximum capacity.

"It is a huge problem for us to try to resolve over the next few years," said Dr. Scarlett.

Signs outside the SFSPCA's Fillmore Street location that say 24 hour emergency are now outdated.

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Dr. Scarlett says the location is suspending overnight emergency care after 8 p.m. during the week and suspending emergency care on the weekends.

The Mission campus will still be open seven days a week.

"We just have to scale back to really what our staff can handle," said Dr. Scarlett.

She thinks telemedicine for veterinarians could make a difference.

"Roughly 80% of the emergencies we see are not true emergencies," said Dr. Scarlett.

While those working on the front lines try to come up with solutions, pet owners are struggling.

"They're our fur babies so to not know what you would do if there's an emergency, it's scary," said Avenius.

A shortage is impacting pets and the people who love them in the Bay Area and beyond.