Nevada laws increasing cost of pet care, exacerbating veterinary shortage, say experts  

By: - Monday November 20, 2023 5:00 am

Nevada laws increasing cost of pet care, exacerbating veterinary shortage, say experts  

By: - 5:00 am

Dr. Terry Muratore and Rachel Cox, a veterinary assistant, treating an animal at Hearts Alive Village. (Photo courtesy Hearts Alive Village)

Dr. Terry Muratore and Rachel Cox, a veterinary assistant, treating an animal at Hearts Alive Village. (Photo courtesy Hearts Alive Village)

A shortage of veterinarians in Nevada and the resulting high cost for service is causing some pet owners to avoid care, relinquish their animals, or choose euthanasia over treatment, according to a variety of advocates and experts.

It’s also leaving non-profit shelters and rescues hard-pressed to compete with corporations for veterinarians.

“It’s cranked up the salaries,” says Christy Stevens, founder and director of Hearts Alive Village, the only full-service, non-profit veterinary hospital in Southern Nevada.  Options Veterinary Care  provides full service affordable nonprofit care in Reno. “Some of the signing bonuses these corporations pay to capture these new students are outrageous. Tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.”

The shortage is not unique to Nevada. 

In California, a Sacramento shelter with a budget for three veterinarians has one, preventing 200 animals ready for adoption from being released because they are not spayed or neutered. 

“They’re paying these veterinarians ridiculous salaries straight out of school,” says Dr. Terry Muratore, a Las Vegas veterinarian of 42 years who sold his practice to a corporation. “There’s a backlog of appointments. If you can get in you can’t afford the price they’re charging. And if you can’t afford it or they recommend you go to a specialist, treatment is out of the question. So the animal suffers, the client suffers, and they lose their companion animal because of it.”

Muratore now treats animals at Hearts Alive Village’s low-cost hospital.

The pandemic, which prompted newfound homebodies to find a furry friend, has increased demand for vet care, but also burnout in veterinary ranks, where reports of depression are common and the rate of suicide exceeds the general population.

The veterinarian crisis is the biggest threat to the safety of pets in our state.

– Rebecca Goff, Humane Society of the United States


A 2022 study from Frontiers in Veterinary Science found 43% of veterinary technicians surveyed strongly agreed and 34% agreed that they were treated worse by animal owners during COVID-19 than before.  

“The compassion fatigue, burnout, extreme student loan debt combined with low pay, compared to other careers with similar skill sets and educational requirements, the increase of hostile and aggressive clients, the physicality of the job – it all leads to an industry that is increasingly destabilizing,” says Rebecca Goff of the Humane Society of the United States. 

Spending on pet health care is expected to increase 3-4% per year beyond inflation in the next decade, according to a report by Mars Veterinary Health, and the U.S. is expected to be short some 24,000 veterinarians by 2030. 

Veterinary schools can’t turn out enough graduates to alleviate the shortage, and landing a coveted spot is costly.

Four-year tuition for an Arizona resident at that state’s veterinary school is $230,000, and $290,000 for out-of-state students. At Colorado State University tuition is $274,000 for a resident and $384,000 for non-residents. Some 85% of graduates leave with loan debt. 

At Midwestern University, non-resident tuition is $467,000 while residents pay $267,000.

In 2022, 99% of the school’s graduates had loan debt. 

Predictably, 90% of veterinary professionals identify as white, according to a Banfield Pet Hospital study that says 75 million animals may lack veterinary care by 2030 and suggests the need “to not only increase the number of veterinary professionals in the U.S. but also diversify the talent pipeline.” 

The company committed to ensuring at least 30% of its veterinary professionals are Black, Indigenous, people of color by 2030, and to provide tuition assistance. 

Clinical veterinarians in Nevada earn $100,380 a year on average, and the state has fewer practitioners per capita than the national average.  

“The veterinarian crisis is the biggest threat to the safety of pets in our state,” says Goff of the Humane Society of the United States. “Even if you have resources, with an owned animal it’s quite a few weeks to get in for a spay or neuter surgery.” 

Delays result in “unwanted litters leading to more animals in our shelters,” Goff says. “With the housing crisis on top of it, it’s really putting unprecedented levels of stress on our rescue and shelter communities. It’s definitely untenable.” 

Some are limiting services or cutting back because of a lack of resources. 

The Clark County Community Cat Coalition (C5), which has trapped, neutered, and released some 50,000 cats in the last decade at no cost to taxpayers, announced this month that because of a drop in donations and volunteers, it will no longer trap in the low-income, stray-saturated neighborhoods surrounding the Animal Foundation, the valley’s government-funded shelter.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the U.S. had 78,810 clinical veterinarians last year,  earning an average of $129,000. Another 14,100 work in public or corporate positions. 

Nevada has 690 veterinarians, 630 of whom work in the urban areas of Reno and Las Vegas, leaving livestock-rich rural parts of the state with a shortage, according to the USDA.

In private clinics, the cost of spay/neuter surgery, which is mandated by law in Southern Nevada, can cost upwards of $400. 

“We’re trying to keep our prices as low as possible so that our care is accessible to almost everybody,” says Stevens of Hearts Alive Village, “We have three full-time veterinarians, and it’s still sometimes months out to get pets in. If we don’t have access to vets, how in the hell are we asking people to enforce a spay/neuter mandate?”

Stevens says the spay/neuter mandate and microchip mandate passed by the City of Las Vegas  are “feel good” measures. “You’re going to pay $80 for a vet visit and $60 for a microchip. Who can afford that? And you can’t even chip an animal unless a vet is there. It doesn’t really change things unless you pay for those microchips, and find a mechanism to get them in all the animals.” 

License portability 

Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states, permitting licensed vets and vet technicians to practice in other jurisdictions while avoiding costly and time consuming licensing requirements. Nevada is not one of them. 

Stevens wants Gov. Joe Lombardo to take emergency executive action to make it easier for licensed vets from out-of-state to practice in Nevada, even temporarily, by foregoing licensing fees for “MASH-style, high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter events” that could draw veterinarians skilled in performing hundreds of surgeries in short order. “Not all veterinarians can do that and we are in a state of emergency,” she says.    

The state charges $100 for a temporary 10-day license, but is free for a veterinarian who volunteers.  

“Who is going to volunteer when they can make so much money elsewhere?” asks Stevens.

Lombardo, in an executive order, directed licensing boards in Nevada to determine whether half of states have portability agreements allowing professionals to work beyond state lines, and if so, to create a plan for a Nevada reciprocity program. 

Jennifer Pedigo, executive director of the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, says she doesn’t know how many states have reciprocity agreements, but in a spreadsheet submitted to Lombardo, the board indicates it’s less than 26 states.  

“We do have plans to expedite the licensing process for individual (sic) that are licensed, in-good standing, and have equivalent education/testing in other jurisdictions in the US and Canada,” Pedigo said via email, adding she was unable to provide specifics. 

A draft regulation approved by the board last month and forwarded to the Legislative Counsel Bureau says the board will approve licenses by endorsement (granting a license to an applicant who is licensed in another jurisdiction). It will be heard again by the board following review by the LCB,

“The lack of license reciprocity is a problem,” says Stevens of Hearts Alive Village. “We need to be able to be welcoming to vets. We’ve got to compete as a state.” 

Lombardo’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ray, wouldn’t say if the governor considers the veterinarian shortage to be critical, but says he lacks authority to tweak regulations.

“The Governor cannot unilaterally authorize licensure reciprocity, but it remains a key priority of his administration,” Ray said by email.

Disclosure: This reporter has donated to Hearts Alive Village and has used Dr. Muratore’s veterinary services. 

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.