'It's crazy busy': Business booming for veterinary industry, animal hospitals

At Lone Mountain Veterinary Hospital, clients have not been allowed inside with their pets during the pandemic, but they can watch the appointment from their car on an iPad.

At Lone Mountain Veterinary Hospital, clients have not been allowed inside with their pets during the pandemic, but they can watch the appointment from their car on an iPad.
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From elective surgery cancellations to routine care delays, the human healthcare industry has been financially hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s not so much the case for the health system treating cats and dogs — business for the veterinary industry is booming.
VetSuccess, which tracks financial data from 2,800 veterinary clinics in the U.S., estimates that revenue in February 2021 was up 12% over February 2020, the month preceding the pandemic.

Zooming out for all of 2020, VetSuccess reports that revenue across the industry was up 7% compared to 2019; and according to its most recent statistics, revenue in the industry is up roughly 9.9% over the past 12 months, from April 2020 to April 2021.

“The most remarkable challenge is how busy every animal hospital is,” Margie Quirk, owner of Lone Mountain Veterinary Hospital in Carson City, told the NNBW in mid-April. “I don’t ever remember being as busy as we are right now during this pandemic. It’s crazy busy.”

Quirk said Lone Mountain has been so slammed with calls from pet owners that they’re booking three weeks out for routine appointments. Pre-COVID, the longest wait time for an appointment at the Carson City-based animal hospital was one week.

Lone Mountain is not alone. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average wait time at veterinary practices across the U.S. almost doubled from 2019 to 2020.

Part of the demand for veterinary services, Quirk feels, could be attributed to “pandemic puppies and kittens” — people adopting pets for companionship while cooped up during quarantine.

Additionally, the shift to remote work and lack of traveling has given many the opportunity to bring home new pets and the time to care for them.

To that end, Shelter Animals Count, which runs a database that tracks shelter and rescue activity across the country, recorded 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in 2019 — an increase of about 15%.

Moreover, Quirk said more time at home with pets has likely led to pet owners paying closer attention to their cats and dogs’ health and wellness.

“Maybe they noticed a lump on their dog that they never felt before or they noticed how bad their breath is and maybe had to have their teeth looked at,” Quirk said. “I think just spending more time with pets has caused people to be a little bit more observant.”

And pet owners have seemingly decided that the pandemic is not going to stop them from maintaining the health of their cats and dogs. Though most animal hospitals don’t allow owners inside with their pets due to COVID safety protocols, Lone Mountain, for one, has made moves to offer a window, virtually and literally, into their onsite care.

Along with offering telemedicine appointments, Lone Mountain gives owners the option of using an iPad in their car so they can watch their pet’s wellness and vaccination visits. The clinic also has outside chairs set near windows that look into an exam room.

“That’s the best way we’ve been able to accommodate, and I would say the majority of clients are very understanding,” Quirk said.

With vaccinations increasing and COVID cases dropping, however, Quirk said some clients are not as understanding about the hospital’s no-owners-in-the-building policy.

“We’re getting a little bit more grumpy people who are almost demanding to come in the building,” Quirk said. “And I’m not letting that happen yet. I have 20 staff that I’m responsible for and they’re my top priority.”

Quirk said she doesn’t have a timeline for when Lone Mountain will let clients back in the building.

For now, it’s not slowing down business for the animal hospital. This past March alone, Lone Mountain’s revenue was up 40% compared to a typical month, Quirk said.

“It was actually our biggest month in well over four years,” she continued. “I honestly don’t think it’s going to drop off anytime soon the way it’s been going. I guess we’ll wait and see what happens with COVID and if things go back to so-called normal.

“It’ll be an interesting rest of the year.”


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