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‘Exhausted, overburdened and overwhelmed’: pandemic pet boom leaving veterinarians in short supply

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Giving pets the best care possible is proving increasingly difficult these days. As Sarah Offin reports, there is a significant shortage of veterinarians, animal health technicians and registered veterinary technicians in Canada – Jan 28, 2021

They have been our co-workers, therapy animals and constant companions over the course of the pandemic, but giving our pets the best care possible is proving increasingly difficult.

“We do have a very significant shortage of veterinarians and animal health technicians, registered veterinary technicians in Canada,” said Dr. Enid Stiles, the President of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. “We were already feeling the pressure and having a hard time meeting the needs of all of the pets that need to be seen. So adding to that, now we have possibly more pets to see, adding more pressure.”

Read more: ‘Pandemic puppies’ bring joy, companionship to families amid pandemic

Visit local dog parks and you’ll likely notice more puppies joining the mix.

Humane Canada said 78,000 cats and 28,000 dogs were in shelters across the country in 2019. Sixty-five per cent of the cats and 73 per cent of dogs were either adopted or reclaimed by owners.

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“We have certainly seen an increase in client base and thus demand,” said Marina Atkins, a veterinary technician and clinic manager at Cambrian Animal Hospital in Calgary. “Where we used to be able to offer clients two to three days of a wait for a routine appointment, now we are booking seven to ten days away. Our surgery schedule requires three to four weeks, sometimes longer to get in.”

Read more: How ‘pandemic pets’ are helping us cope with coronavirus stress

“It seems like no matter how many [appointments] we save in a day for urgent cases and emergency cases, they can be booked up before I get in at 9 am. for work,” said Liz Ruelle at the Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary. “Were ending up having to triage over the phone, direct clients to emergency clinic locations. And it’s really gut-wrenching.”

Wild Rose Cat Clinic is one of a number of clinics no longer accepting first-time clients – a decision that has been met by frustration among new pet owners.

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“It hurts when I have to say no,” said Ruelle. “When we say we can’t see your cat in our clinic it’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because we can’t physically and mentally do it.”

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The CVMA said there are currently about 12,500 vets in Canada. The organization is currently working on ways to add to that number.

“The number of seats that we have in the schools here in Canada is just still not sufficient,” said Stiles. “And every seat in a school requires actually quite a bit of money from the government. And that takes time to get there. So in the in-between… we’re looking at solutions to encourage people to come to Canada who are licensed veterinarians coming from accredited colleges, and maybe even looking at selective ways for licensure.”

“They can bring so much happiness and pleasure – so important for people’s mental and physical health, especially now.”

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