Veterinarian-turned-legislator takes action, says Colorado’s vet shortage hurts pets and people

Veterinarian-led state lawmakers are introducing a package of bills aimed at addressing the growing shortage of veterinarians in Colorado.

The state has about 3,800 vets for 2.5 million dogs and cats, and that doesn’t include horses and farm animals. A recent survey of Colorado veterinarians by Colorado State University’s Animal Humane Policy Center found that 70% are giving up animals every week because their practices are too burdensome. Now, state Rep. Karen McCormick, whose district includes Boulder County, is taking action.

She says when she became a veterinarian 40 years ago, pet parents had a choice of practitioners. Not anymore, she says: “The profession as a whole saw it coming.”

Former veterinarian and Colorado State Representative Karen McCormick


For many years, the demand for veterinary care has been increasing as the supply of animals has been shrinking. But now it’s reaching a tipping point, and McCormick says animals aren’t the only victims: “We’re part of the firewall that protects public health and safety in our country.”

That firewall, she says, is weakening because doctors — especially those who care for large farm animals in rural Colorado — are stretched thin. Not only are more vets retiring than graduating, McCormick says, but 80% of those who graduate only care for companion animals.

One of his bills would clear the way for more telehealth care in veterinary medicine when and how it can be done. The US Food and Drug Administration oversees veterinary medicine and requires at least one in-person visit by veterinarians before caring for animals. They are also limited in what they can write during the virtual visit.

McCormick also plans to introduce a bill to expand vet tech’s role: “We’re losing veterinary technicians in our field at an average of seven years in the field because they’re not making the most of their training and education, they’re not being paid enough.”

Dr. Nancy Bureau of Left Hand Animal Hospital in Niuet says the bills are long overdue and will help improve access and reduce costs.

Dr. Nancy Bureau, with Left Hand Animal Hospital in Newport, Colorado


“Our veterinary technician teams are incredibly talented people,” he said. “If they can be encouraged to use those skills and further their careers, it’s a win all around. It’s a win for the animals, it’s a win for the pets. It’s a win for the parents, it’s a win. That’s a win for vet tech and it’s a win for veterinary medicine.”

The federal government has offered student loan forgiveness to doctors who want to practice in rural areas, but many don’t stay, which is why McCormick is also introducing a bill that would give those who stay an income tax credit. will provide

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