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Pet owners beware: An overwhelmed vet system can't keep up with the number of injured, sick animals

Right now, there's pressure on vets to be available around the clock. The pandemic is adding to the workload.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Across the country, animal hospitals and clinics are at a breaking point. The nationwide veterinarian shortage is now taking a toll on Charlotte region animal hospitals. 

When Bruce Marschner's dog, Jasper, started vomiting foam at his home in Cornelius on a Sunday, he panicked.

“I was scared and nervous," Marschner said. 

At first, he tried a veterinarian hospital in Huntersville, which was closed over the weekend. He said he then tried a Charlotte office, which wasn't taking any more patients because they were over capacity. Then he tried reaching out to one in Denver, North Carolina, which had a six- to seven-hour long wait. He considered going to Winston Salem at one point but ultimately had success in Kannapolis. 

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It was a nightmare as his dog was suffering from gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), commonly known as bloat. 

“When the stomach twists it prevents food and water from going down and cuts off circulation to the stomach, so it’s a life-threatening condition and they can die within hours," Marschner said. 

After five hours of chaos, Jasper had a successful surgery. 

“He [the vet] said I was lucky that she was alive," Marschner said. 

Right now, there's pressure on vets to be available around the clock. The pandemic is adding to the workload.

“For the veterinarian field, we’ve always had a bit of a circumstance where folks are under compensated for the type of work they’re doing," Dr. Jim Dobies, veterinarian at UrgentVet, said. "So coming out of a pandemic, especially with inflation there are now other opportunities, in terms of finding jobs with higher pay and hours that are not necessarily those overnight graveyard shifts."

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Pet owners are now needing to drive long distances to get emergency vet care. 

“I know it can be frustrating because we’ve all been in that situation when your pet is sick and you’re anxious about what the next step will be but there will always be a provider out there," Dobies said. "You may have to drive a little further to get there but you should be able to find someone that can help.”

Marschner is glad he was able to find someone to help. 

"She’s doing great," Marschner said.

While Jasper heals, Marschner wonders if the broken system can be fixed so our pets can continue to be our healers.

Dobies said the veterinarian field is trying to solve this problem. The industry is focusing on creating a career focus path, including, improving training, benefits, and work-life balance schedules. He said it will take some time to correct, and there need to be more out-of-the-box solutions. 

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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