The great veterinary shortage

I’ve seen several posts about long wait times and not being able to get in vets.

I left vet med in 2020 after 8 years. I could no longer deal with the severe burnout, neglect, poor pay/benefits and poor treatment by management.

This is a really great article:

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Add to that the half-million in student loans to pay off for the rest of your life.

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This is why I left vet school 16 years ago. Not to sound gruesome, but I feel like there’s a good chance I would have become a suicide statistic had I stayed.

I’ve done pickup veterinary nursing work on and off over the years and usually get paid no more than $12/hr… someone offered me $15/hr recently to do some PT work for them. Woo. :roll_eyes: Practices literally can’t afford to pay more without raising their already astronomical costs, though.

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My vet posts a lot about the shortage of Large Animal & in particular, Equine grads :confused:
It worries me, as I see myself with horses for the next 10+yrs & it would be hard for me to haul the 1h+ to the local vet college for routine care, let alone emergencies :frowning:


Same here. My vet cut back to 9-5 no weekends, no emergency calls after hours. Thankfully I do have another vet I can use at any time so I’m starting to split my routine stuff between them to keep them both in rotation. I guess that makes me a two-timer :rofl: but they are both ok with it. I can haul to the clinic which is very good, 40 minutes away but that’s no help when the trailer is snowed in (and it HAS to be parked in a spot that is not easy to access in the winter). As someone who has kept a horse or three for over 50 years it hurts me to say I’m really starting to think long term about whether or not to continue with horses.

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I think about this often. I just turned 30, have long-term (years) leased several times in my life and got in to a career that would allow me to realistically finance a horse. Within the next few years when I’m ready to move on from my current, amazing lease, I’d been looking forward to finally fulfilling a dream and shopping for my own horse but think often and sadly that the lack of available care might make it unfeasible.

I love the vet we currently use. She was 8.5 months pregnant doing a lameness exam on our huge TB mare without a care in the world. I try to do my part to make her day easier - horse in and ready, me with my lip zipped and ready to assist. I say thank you a million times, and I’ve texted her exactly once even though she gave me her number months ago.

I work in healthcare, and I know how it feels to not only be crushed under the weight of the administrative part of the job, but by the unrealistic expectations, entitlement, and downright rudeness of patients. If we as clients did our best to make our vet’s day pleasant, it would go a long way.


Do not let my vet see this. :shushing_face:
Sigh… She’s tried, but rarely turns down emergencies & a 7 Day Week of 12+h days is almost routine.
TG, she’s getting a Grad student next week, but that one still has to pass Boards in December to practice.

I’ve threatened my pony - who nailed vet with a cowkick last time she did dentals - with bodily harm if he pulls that again :imp:
She calls him Ninja Pony :unamused:
No Harming The Vet!

I loved practicing ambulatory equine medicine but it damned near killed me being in solo practice.
I’d see my small animal colleagues taking weekends off and think, wow that must be nice.
When I made the move from practice to teaching, it was a real shift.
I had less control over my work schedule in some ways (never been a morning person, but I had a client list that loved that I would do late in the day appointments so they didn’t have to take off from their day jobs), but there wasn’t this constant dread of the phone ringing when we went out to dinner or to a movie or a concert.

I do miss routine practice, but I do not miss 2AM emergencies.

Given the ever increasing cost of equipment (digital radiography, ultrasound, endoscopes, dentistry equipment, etc.), on top of the high student loan payments, it’s pretty much impossible to jump in these days.


I can relate in a small way re: the constant dread of the phone ringing. When I was a nurse, I was “the one” that always got called first when someone called out sick. Always on my weekend off. Or during a special occasion. I could bet $ on it!


I frequently wonder when they will create an easier pathway to veterinary medicine. Like a PA equivalent or other intermediary between tech and vet.

I often feel guilty that I have abandoned the field. It’s something I truly love; I just couldn’t find work life balance. It cracks me up because occasionally I’ll say that to someone and they will always go, “you should go back! You can do it!”

Um, logistically, no I cannot. My pre-req credits are “expired.” I don’t live within commuting distance of a vet school. I have a farm and a family. I don’t have enough working years left to pay off the six figure debt.

There are a lot of people in my same situation who could be helping to reduce the burden on veterinarians if they would create a pathway for us to do so.


There is a young large animal vet at my clinic/hospital She’s very interested in equine medicine. Has horses of her own etc. She’s very nice, polite to a fault. She showed up for a “minor emergency” one afternoon for me. She’d been working all day at a cattle farm. Poor dear was covered in shit splatters.

So half a mil to get shit on. Sounds like a crappy deal.


I’d rather have cow poop than human poop.

I told my family doc that when she talked about delivering babies. I told her about reaching in after a tangle of lambs and trying to replace a cow uterus. She was disgusted, lol. I try not to call the vet unless I have to. Sadly, that means that it’s often pretty bad if I do.

Pay your vet promptly. Make it easy for them. Learn everything you can so you can step in if they’re behind. Keep meds on hand.

I was stationed in Guam and had a friend with horses. Little island horses and a few TBs from Australia. The vet came once every few months. I talked the hospital into giving me expired IV fluids to take to my friend when we had a bad colic. I stayed there all night and we figured out how to put an IV line and give those human bags (100ml) one at a time to keep him hydrated. He made it. I think I’ll ask my vet to show me how again, just in case. If I had some tubing and fluids, even 100 ml bags, I could help a colicky horse if we couldn’t get a vet out.


We have three vet practices in my county - none of them large animal. The nearest large animal vet either come from Monterey county, Santa Cruz or Santa Clara. Ours are small animal only. The one guy cannot find a partner to come into practice with him and he needs someone as he keeps getting ill. The other practice - the vet passed away and whoever bought the practice keeps bringing in replacement vets but hasn’t actually made an appearance themselves so we are all like??? The other group has three vets and all are overloaded. All vets say they are overwhelmed with patients and that there is room in this area for at least 4 more vets both large and small animal to come in. I guess along with the other problems we have the added nuisance of an area that offers almost nothing to an outsider. Housing is costly, school systems meh, nothing to do, nowhere to go. Hard to get peeps to come here with that as a detraction.

It’s pretty scary. I’m far away from the center of high quality veterinary care. I knew that when we moved here. I’ve had decades of access to a variety of top class racetrack veterinarians and surgeons… so I’m spoiled. What access to most local veterinarians I have experienced has left me sorely disappointed and shocked. Not all veterinarians are equal, even those who advertise themselves to be “equine specialist vets”.

If I have a severe and terminal situation, I call a rancher and a backhoe, not a vet. Most other situations, I do the best I can with 5 decades of past experience of guidance from vets I respect and have been schooled by, because I don’t have a lot of other options.

Recently, a new vet has bought a previously pretty scary small animal vet office located an hour away from me. I met him when I took my cat to see him. He seems OK. Not particularly an equine specialist. He hired an “equine specialist” vet, but she disappeared again very quickly, IDK if fired or quit. I never met her, or used her services, but I heard some bad stories locally- good thing she’s gone. The vet who did the work with the cat and owns the clinic is now offering “equine” vet service due to the intense NEED, but has limited equine facilities at the clinic, and is SO busy with small animals that making farm calls just isn’t really an option. Even getting an appointment at the clinic is difficult and booking long in advance is necessary. He’s constantly searching for at least one other vet (I think they’d take large OR small animal vet) to join the practice, but so far, nothing has happened with that plan, and they continue to struggle. They work 7 days a week, and are constantly advertising for office staff too… I think that “burn out” happens quickly even with the non-veterinarian staff.

When I spoke with this new vet that I quite like who owns this clinic about the lack of access to equine vets, he suggested another vet located not too far from me, who he used to work for when he first came into this area. I had already tried that one out in years previous, and THAT was pretty scary. I told him how horrified I had been, and his response was “Say-no-more. I know exactly what you are talking about.” So it’s not just me who feels that way.


My friend was stationed in Guam with her husband. I can’t even imagine trying to own horses there!

I wonder the legal ramifications of hosting “how to” clinics for animal owners to perform basic veterinary nursing skills like administering fluids, tubing a horse, performing a rectal exam, etc. I am of two minds on that idea: I think it would be great for the capable owner to be able to do those skills themselves, especially if you combined it with something like telemed where they could contact a vet at a remote location to help assess the situation. But I also see it being a recipe for disaster, as a lot of people (even very intelligent ones) have poor sense for all things medical.


Both of those procedures are reasonably high risk.
While I can maybe figure nasogastric intubation could be a justified risk, there is absolutely no reason for an owner to be doing a rectal exam.
What is the potential benefit to weigh against the considerable risk to both human and horse?


If you are in Guam or even just any number of places where emergency ambulatory services or a 24/7 clinic are not available??? Because that’s the direction we are heading…

There are a considerable number of lay people who rectal their large animals for all sorts of purposes already: repro, cattle farmers, etc. I don’t see it as an unattainable skill. And it could provide benefitial diagnostic info in terms of “do we try to save this horse or pull out the rifle?”

But you get what I’m saying better than anyone— it has to be the right person. Susie at the boarding barn with her beloved Dobbin likely isn’t the right person. Even egotistical head trainer probably isn’t the right person.

As I said, I’m two minds on the topic. I think it’s dangerous to have a bunch of lay people thinking they can do veterinary procedures. But there are also a lot of people who could stabilize a horse and give it a fighting chance if they had access to the knowledge and skills.

We are headed for a huge regression in animal welfare.


You raise an interesting point regarding what / if any procedures might be suitable for teaching to owners.

I have an ongoing situation where my oldie might (or might not) benefit from a second round of a particular abx that must be given IV. I don’t do IV. If I was trained and relatively confident in said training, horse would get a second round of these abx. The cost of the meds / supplies are affordable enough. But I’m not trained, I’m not confident and the logistics and cost of getting someone who is out to my farm daily for 3 weeks is prohibitive.

Would my horse benefit if I had the training to administer IV meds? Possibly. But he might also die if I effed it up.

Fortunately this particular situation isn’t a life threatening health crisis (chronic scratches). If it was I’d bite the bullet and hospitalize him.

It’s an interesting conversation though.


A few years ago on a weekday morning during regular business hours I found my donkey colicking. I lived in the greater metropolitan Nashville area, 30 miles from the Nashville city limits, sharing a zip code with a small city that had 50,000 people. Rural, yes, but not remote by any means.

I called my regular vet (the only equine vet in the county). He was out of town. The receptionist told me to call a small animal practice in town who was covering their emergencies. Small animal practice told me they couldn’t help me because I wasn’t a client of theirs and seemed completely confused why I would even call them. I proceeded to call every vet in the region, all of which told me they couldn’t help in any way.

I have above average veterinary nursing skills. But I had no equipment and no drugs apart from bute/banamine. I had no trailer to get her to closest emergency hospital 2 hours away. All my contingency plans for trailers fell apart— friends were out of town, at work, didn’t have their rigs. I put out pleas on social media and everyone was like “aw shucks that sucks for you, you should have planned better.” I thought I had a plan.

She was impacted. An old vet friend living nearly 4 hours away was about to drive up to help me when luckily my donkey started passing manure.

That shouldn’t happen. I got lucky. But how many horses are going to die in situations like those?


Please do not equate rectal exam in cattle with the same procedure in horses. Cattle are far more tolerant, medically speaking, than are horses of iatrogenic trauma to the rectal mucosa.
One of the leading causes of malpractice claims against equine DVMs is rectal tears.

While I don’t think it is an “unattainable skill” to be able to diagnose intestinal displacements via rectal palpation, it does require a fair amount of practice, and there are enough other clinical findings that would lead one to the conclusion that surgery or euthanasia is likely to be the humane choice: lack of gut sounds, abdominal distension, persistently elevated heart rate even with analgesics on board, poor perfusion as evidenced by mucous membrane color/refill, profuse sweating, rolling, etc.