We’re avoiding the doctor during pandemic, but our pets aren’t

By Al Tompkins
Poynter Institute

Even while Americans are less likely to see their own doctor or dentist during the COVID pandemic, we are taking our pets to get checkups more often. The New York Times found this jewel of a story:
“Patients may be reluctant to return to the human health system in part because they’ve lost coverage, or have less income, and are worried about the possibility of a surprise bill.
“Demand for veterinary services is typically cyclical: Pet owners spend more on medical care for dogs and cats when the economy is strong and they have more disposable income.
“This economic downturn is different. Volume and revenue are up at animal hospitals and primary care offices. VetSuccess, which tracks financial data from 2,800 clinics, estimates that revenue last month was up 18 percent over last July.
“The American Animal Hospital Association said the increase in traffic goes beyond the general practitioner’s office. Emergency vet offices said they are getting overflow from general practice clinics that have told pet owners that they are booked up for weeks.”
Most practices are experiencing a major uptick in business. But the boom in general practices is cascading — onto emergency practices.
Many ERs are finding they’re seeing cases that general practices would normally handle, but haven’t been able to because they were either closed or limited in the kind of care they could provide.
Max Rinaldi, DVM, medical director at AAHA-accredited Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Springfield, Oregon, calls their caseload “unprecedented. I’ve been doing this for eight years and I’ve never seen it like this.”
He estimates their caseload is up 40 percent over this time last year, and he credits the boom in overflow to general practices: “As they become more stretched, things that aren’t necessarily huge emergencies, but still need to be seen within a reasonable period of time, end up coming to our door.”
With local hospitals booked out several weeks in advance, Rinaldi says, “We’re seeing a lot more of the routine stuff.” A lot of which consists of dermatology cases, hot spots, flea infestations, and general dentistry.
The Times’ story quotes pet insurance provider Trupanion as saying “second-quarter revenue was up 28 percent over last year. It has 14 percent more cat and dog members than it did at the start of the year.”
The story also said that Trupanion noticed some trends in the names people are giving their new pets, including Corona, Rona and Covid.
Oddly, there has been a big increase in parvo cases among dogs during the pandemic.
There is no connection between the new outbreak of the canine parvovirus and COVID-19 except that they are unfolding at the same time.
The American Animal Hospital Association website noted:
“BluePearl, which operates 90 specialty and emergency pet hospitals in 21 states, recently announced an ‘alarming’ 70 percent increase in the number of canine parvovirus cases presenting in their emergency rooms during the pandemic compared to the same time periods in the past five years.
“Canine parvovirus infection — or parvo — is a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral illness that affects dogs. The virus manifests itself in two different forms, intestinal (the most common) and cardiac.
“BluePearl said most of the cases are among puppies ages 6 weeks to 6 months — which provides a clue about what might be going on.
“James Barr, DVM, DACVECC, chief medical officer of BluePearl, notes that during the pandemic, many people turned to animals for companionship, which led to increased demand for adoptions. Eager to spend quality time with their pups, many people have been wiling away the hours with their new friends. However, Barr explains, ‘stay-at-home orders prompted a trend in people spending more time outdoors, which could have increased environmental exposure.’
“In addition, with wellness care temporarily going by the wayside at most hospitals, many people were forced to postpone vaccinating their new puppies, including for parvo. According to Barr, ‘Other possible causes for the uptick include disruptions in the timing of or prevention of puppies receiving full vaccine series, resulting in incomplete immunity.’ That might include puppies being adopted out of shelters before they were ready to satisfy increased demand. Barr also cites financial hardships such as job loss as a potential factor, ‘preventing or delaying owners from seeking routine vaccinations.’”

Author: Rachel Howell

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