Animal associations

More fallout from COVID-19: overcrowded animal shelters

There are nearly three million missing spaying/sterilization surgeries in the United States due to the COVID pandemic, the researchers report.

In addition to vet and staff shortages, missing surgeries contribute to widespread overcrowding at pet shelters.

The results come from a new study of more than 200 clinics from 2019 to 2021.

Progress made over decades in controlling overpopulation of dogs and cats through high-volume spaying surgeries is now under threat thanks to the ongoing pandemic, researchers say.

The impact – felt in both community shelters and veterinary clinics – includes a sharp drop in spay/neuter surgeries after the initial pandemic-triggered lockdowns, followed by staff shortages in clinics and shelters, overcrowding and lagging pet adoption rates.

All of these issues are compounded by a nationwide shortage of veterinarians, which has been felt even more acutely in shelters and spay clinics, according to the study. Frontiers of veterinary science.

The study focused on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the volume of surgeries performed by sterilization clinics, says lead author Simone Guerios, clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida.

The team drew their research from 212 clinics nationwide, all of which use Clinic HQ cloud-based clinic management software, which is specifically designed for facilities that focus on sterilization and care services. preventive health.

“The high level of sterilization achieved over the past five decades is the single most important driver for reducing pet overpopulation and euthanasia in animal shelters,” says Guerios. “Increased subsidized access to sterilization has helped euthanize shelter animals in the United States from an estimated 13.5 million in 1973 to 1.5 million in 2019.”

Using 2019 as a baseline, the researchers aimed to determine the impact of the pandemic on the volume of sterilization procedures performed in 2020-2021 at the 212 clinics, which collectively performed more than one million surgeries per year and were in way to increase surgeries by 5% over the previous year.

But in the 24 months from January 2020 to December 2021, 190,818 fewer surgeries were performed at the clinics studied than expected if 2019 levels had been maintained, the researchers found.

“If a similar trend were observed by other spay/neuter programs in the United States, this would suggest that there is a deficit of over 2.7 million spay/neuter surgeries that animal welfare organizations have yet to account for. solved,” says co-author Julie Levy, professor. teaching shelter medicine.

All of the impacts of the pandemic combined have the potential to undermine progress made in controlling pet populations and euthanasia in shelters, Levy adds.

“Right now shelters are in crisis mode, with overcrowded and late adoptions,” Guerios says. “Pet overpopulation appears to be on the rise, leading to an increase in euthanasia in shelters for the first time in many years.”

Source: University of Florida