The surge in border crossing with pets comes as staffing shortages and a booming pet population make it hard for U.S. veterinarians to keep up with demand.
The number of pet dogs jumped as much as 16% between 2016 and 2020, while pet cats climbed as much as 6%, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Clinics in the U.S. have raised salaries to attract more workers, but the wage hikes coupled with inflation mean higher costs are passed on to pet owners. The cost of veterinary services is up 10% year-over-year, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A shortage of nearly 15,000 veterinarians will likely still exist by 2030, according to a 2022 report from Mars Veterinary Health, a network of more than 2,500 veterinary clinics, hospitals, and diagnostic labs. Over 75 million U.S. pets may not have access to vet care by then without intervention.
More business in Mexican vet clinics
San Diego resident Anna Ginsky said she was quoted about $2,000 for dental work for her dog in 2015. She opted for a clinic in Mexico that she said charged her just $300.
The visit sparked a business idea, and now Ginsky runs MexiVet Express, a transportation and liaison service that takes American pets to clinics in Baja California, and back. While most of Ginsky’s customers are from California, she said she’s had some fly in from far-off cities like Chicago to access more affordable veterinary care.
“Some people just can’t afford $5,000 to remove a tumor off of their pet’s leg,” Ginsky said. “If they don’t know about an alternative option, then their only option is to let their pet suffer. In a lot of cases, that’s when they find us.”
Anna Ginsky, owner of MexiVet Express.
When Ginsky launched MexiVet Express in 2018, she had about 10 clients per week. When the pandemic hit, she said her customer count doubled. Now, she says she’s up to about 60 clients per week and has grown her business to a team of nine.
Some veterinarians in Mexico have seen their businesses grow as they gain more customers from across the border. Maria Mariño, a veterinarian and owner of two clinics in Ensenada, estimates that about 20% of her patients were from the U.S. before the pandemic. Today, she said it’s closer to 30%, enough for her to make sure she keeps people who speak English on staff.
“The treatments are very expensive there, so they travel to check another second option,” she said.
A 2022 Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners found nearly two-thirds say inflation has made it more difficult to pay a surprise vet bill. Bills less than $1,000 would cause 42% of pet owners to go into debt, while bills less than $500 would cause 28% of pet owners to go into debt.
How does the quality of care compare?
Ginsky warns that there are certain drugs and treatments available in the U.S. she has yet to find in Mexico. But she said tumor removals, dental cleanings, overnight hospitalizations, and wound care are all available across the border “for a fraction of the price.”
“You need to really understand what your pet needs and then shop around to see if there’s a duplicate of that in Mexico,” she said.
Lubi Verdugo, a veterinarian, and owner of two clinics in Ensenada, Baja California, said Mexican clinics are working to have more veterinarians specialize in certain areas like cardiology, as they do in the U.S.
But pet owners can find quality care in Mexico, he said. They just need to do their research and make sure the clinic they’re working with is legitimate.
“They can trust that veterinarians in Mexico can help them and offer the same services, just at a lower cost,” he said. But “there are people in Mexico that have clinics and they are not veterinarians.”
Pet owners can double-check that a veterinarian in Mexico is licensed on the Mexican Government’s website.