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Montana not immune to nationwide veterinarian shortage

Posted at 2:03 PM, Jul 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-21 15:29:21-04

BILLINGS — Montana is feeling the effects of a nationwide veterinarian shortage, and it’s one that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic.

It’s hitting rural communities the hardest.

“I think there’s a lot of factors that playing into it, and COVID unfortunately is one of them,” said Dr. Samantha Mitchell, the director of shelter medicine at the Humane Society of Western Montana on Tuesday.

She said shelters saw an increase in adoptions during the pandemic.

Dr. Samantha Mitchell, Director of Shelter Medicine at the Humane Society of Western Montana.

“During the pandemic, about one in five households ended up getting either a pet or an additional pet, so there was a large increase in pet ownership,” Mitchell said.

Though those adoptions have slowed tremendously, more people were trying to get their animals into the vet for appointments.

Dr. Edie Best of the Billings Animal Family Hospital saw this firsthand.

“Because, this is just perception again, people were home with their pets, they recognized problems more readily because they were spending way more time with their pets,” said Best on Wednesday.


Best said that more pets mean fewer appointment slots.

“I think some veterinarians would prefer to keep that model of fewer appointments, curbside care, those sorts of things, which then does limit availability,” Best said.

And just like in healthcare, many vets left their practices because of the stress of the pandemic.

“For a lot of vets, it was kind of breaking point, and they went into different fields besides general practice or retired altogether,” said Dr. Mitchell.

It doesn’t help that there are no vet schools in Montana, forcing residents to go out of state for schooling. It makes it harder to recruit in those rural areas of Montana.

Dr. Edie Best of the Billings Animal Family Hospital.

“It’s hard to find that exact person that wants to go out in the middle of nowhere Montana to practice veterinary medicine when maybe they’ve been schooled in a larger city,” Best said.

Mitchell said all these factors will directly affect the future of the industry.

“I think the future in the short term is a little daunting. I do think we’re going to see an increase in pet overpopulation as well as an increase in diseases in our pets,” said Mitchell.

“I hope that the rural small practices can stay afloat. I think they will, I think there’s always going to be that need for the farm vets, the ranch vets,” Best said.