LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Several veterinary centers in the Las Vegas Valley have been forced to adjust how they do business with curbside service or have closed completely leading to an influx of patients at other clinics. 

A demand for more pet care and fewer providers is part of a nationwide shortage.

Animal Focus Vet has two daytime clinics in Henderson and an ER hospital on Charleston Boulevard.

Ronnie Lee, director of business development, said there are extended wait times happening throughout the valley.

“Vegas, Henderson, the valley, has about 205 veterinarian practices, at night and on Sundays that goes down to about two or three that provide emergency services," Lee said.

He said of the roughly 2 million people in the valley, it's estimated that 49% are pet owners, leaving about one million animals in the care of 205 centers.

Dr. Joe Owens, co-owner of Animal Focus Vet Horizon, said he noticed an influx of patients when certain clinics closed. They're currently doing curbside service to keep their staff safe. 

“We’ve been essential workers we didn’t get a break, we can't do this from home," Dr. Owens said.

Retention is hard in the field.

Dr. Owens said the mental and emotional toll is not something veterinarians and other vet staff are prepared for in medical school. Dr. Owens used to speak quarterly at different veterinary schools before the pandemic to raise that reality. 

"I was in the same position as they were in. But what they don't tell you, you know, they teach you how to practice medicine, they teach you how to read blood work, how to read X-rays, how to fix an animal, but they don't teach you ... you can only do as much as that pet owner allows you to do," Dr. Owens said.

Aside from the supply and demand challenges, mental health is a hardship in the field.

“The stress is deep, people don’t understand what we go through. We’re humans, too, and not only are we humans that care, ... I’m not a mechanic, I’m a veterinarian. This was eight years of school," Dr. Owens said. 

According to the Veterinary Hope Foundation, veterinarians are about three times more likely than the general population to die by suicide.

GENERIC: Cat claw

“It’s very common, and you know, I know a couple colleagues that have been through that ... we lost them," Dr. Owens said.

He said having a thick skin is important. 

"You see a lot of stuff, a lot of abuse, a lot of neglect, and it’s compounded over time," Dr. Owens said. His mantra is that you can't care more than the pet owner.

The biggest challenge Dr. Owens said is the misconception that a rabies shot is a stamp of approval for pet healthcare and nothing else needs to be done. He stresses the importance of being an advocate for the animal and said insurance is vital from the beginning. 

He hopes pet parents out there will remember to be patient at their local vet offices.

“You don’t agree with an estimate or treatment plan or whatever we’re saying, just be respectful. Right, because I’m a human, too," Dr. Owens said. 

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