The Equine and Large Animal Veterinarian Shortage is Reaching Crisis Levels

The Equine and Large Animal Veterinarian Shortage is Reaching Crisis Levels


The veterinary industry has been stretched thin over the last several years, especially the large animal and equine industry. Fewer and fewer veterinary students are entering the equine field after vet school, and of the few that do, half leave within the first 5 years to go into companion animal practice. With older vets retiring, the gap is growing wider and wider. 


This article from does a great job of explaining why and the issues at hand.  However, the fix isn’t fast and the problem will get worse before it gets better. 


How will this affect you and your donkey?


The large animal veterinarian shortage can have various impacts depending on your specific circumstances and the region where you reside. Here are a few potential effects it could have:


  1. Limited Access to Veterinary Care: With a shortage of large animal vets, you may find it challenging to access veterinary care for your livestock or large animals. It could lead to longer waiting times for appointments and limited availability for emergency situations.
  2. Increased Costs: Due to the limited supply of large animal veterinarians, the demand for their services may drive up costs. You may experience higher fees for consultations, treatments, and medications.
  3. Difficulty in Finding Specialized Care: If your animals require specialized veterinary care, such as complex surgeries, the shortage could make it harder to find veterinarians with the necessary expertise. This could potentially impact the health and productivity of your animals.
  4. Geographic Constraints: The impact of the veterinarian shortage may vary depending on your location. Rural areas and regions with a higher concentration of livestock farming may be more affected than urban areas. In areas where veterinary services are already limited, the shortage could exacerbate the situation.


In some areas of the U.S., we are already seeing great potential adopters that can’t move forward in the adoption process because they can’t find vets who are taking new clients.


So, what can you do?


Below are our top 10 tips to make sure your donkey is healthy and gets the care it needs when needed.


  1. Become a great client:  Become the client that your vet wants to visit.  Schedule vet appointments for regular, preventative health care.  Be flexible with your vets schedule and not demanding. Don’t wait for an emergency to call a vet for the first time. Don’t call the vet for an emergency that really isn’t one.  Don’t wait to call the vet.  If you think there may be a problem with your donkey, call the vet now. It could still be days before the vet can get to you and by that time, your donkey could be deathly ill.  Show your vet your appreciation for the work they do ..  it really goes a long way.   
  2. Help your donkey become a great patient.  Now that you are a great client, make the visit great too.  Help your donkey be a great patient by practicing standing still while tied. Picking up their feet willingly (and no kicking).  Poke and prod and look at their teeth as part of your regular grooming routine.  Use a stethoscope and thermometer with your donkey regularly so they aren’t new, scary things. 
  3. Become your farrier's favorite client and have the best farrier you can get.  Most farriers will help with hoof related medical issues, such as abscesses, so you don’t have to involve your vet.  They will also happily show you what to do next time, so you can be more self-reliant. Be sure your farrier knows what they are doing and isn’t creating a medical issue.
  4. Find an equine dentist and become a regular client.  Many donkey health issues stem from their teeth.  While your vet may be able to do dentistry, if you can save them a visit that another provider can do, you are allowing your vet to serve more clients with potentially more pressing issues.  
  5. Think outside of the boxMake friends with your small animal vet.  You never know, in a pinch they may be willing to help you with your large animals, especially if you are a good companion animal client.  Or, make friends with local livestock owners.  This group of people have been self-reliant for most veterinary care out of necessity.  In a pinch, they may be able to help with a problem.  
  6. Increase your self-reliance. In response to the shortage, you might need to develop a more self-reliant approach to animal care. This may involve learning basic veterinary skills, investing in resources such as books and online resources, and seeking guidance from experienced farmers or ranchers in your community.  Look for classes on equine first aid, emergency preparedness, and more.  
  7. Be prepared for vets to move to telehealth.  If your vet wants to facetime you to see your donkey via video call, you’ll want to have a cell phone that is capable and ready, and you’ll want to know how to use it. Don’t have good cell phone coverage where you live? Look at other options such as satellite internet and a small notebook computer.  The idea is to be as prepared as possible.
  8. Be prepared for vets to require haul in visits for emergencies (and possibly, only haul in visits longer term).  Vets can see more clients if they aren’t driving all over to get to them.  This is why you don’t see small animal vets offering house calls any more. 
  9. Buy a trailer and teach your donkey to get on it!  Hauling your donkey to the vet will likely become the only way to see one soon.  Buy a small trailer that is easy to tow and safe for your donkey.  Ideally, you’d also have a tow vehicle or one you could borrow.  If that isn’t possible, you can always rent a truck, but trailer rentals are not easy to come by or borrow necessarily - so having your own gives you peace of mind that in an emergency, you can get your long ears to the doctor. 
  10. Practice preventive care for your donkey.  Keep your donkey as healthy as you can.  Keep them off grass to avoid all the related health issues that can come with it. Remove toxic plants from their reach. Keep their feet dry and clean during muddy, rainy seasons.  Provide clean hay.  Keep them warm and dry during the winter. Check them over daily to keep little issues from turning into big problems. Check their surroundings to keep hazards from creating an emergency.  Keep your farrier on a regular schedule  - every 6 to 8 weeks will allow your farrier to catch little issues before they become big issues. Have the equine dentist out annually, or more if your donkey has an issue that warrants it.

And finally, it’s worth repeating … be prepared to pay more for veterinary care.  Costs will go up .. it’s basic supply and demand.  However, we need to pay large animal and equine vets better regardless to keep them in the profession and attract new vets.  Price increases are not a short term problem.  It’s part of the long term solution.