Lethbridge animal hospital discusses vet shortage during COVID-19 pet boom

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge animal hospital discusses veterinarian shortage amid COVID-19 pet boom'
Lethbridge animal hospital discusses veterinarian shortage amid COVID-19 pet boom
A lot of things have become more difficult during the pandemic and that extends to animal care. As Taz Dhaliwal explains, an industry that was already feeling pressure before the pandemic has been especially challenged. – Feb 1, 2021

The veterinarian and animal care industry all across Canada was already experiencing a shortage in trained professionals and now the pandemic has made things even busier with a recent influx of pet owners.

“We’re always looking for vets, they’re definitely hard to come by, especially vets that want to work emergency,” said Dr. Kate Lupton, a veterinarian with the Family Pet Hospital and 24 Hour Pet Emergency Centre in Lethbridge.

“So, the emergency clinics especially feel the strain and I think rural practices as well — to find large animal vets is also a struggle,” Lupton added.

The pet hospital says it sometimes has to book patients weeks in advance, but is trying its best to accommodate everyone.

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“We try and see everything we possibly can,” she explained.

“I hear stories of clinics turning patients away because they physically cannot take anymore.”

“Obviously that is not good for our pets and the toll on staff… We’re spread thin,” Lupton said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s pandemic pet boom leaving veterinarians in short supply'
Alberta’s pandemic pet boom leaving veterinarians in short supply

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) says there are currently about 12,500 vets in Canada. The organization is working on ways to add to that number.

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It says up to 50 per cent more veterinarians and vet technicians might be needed within the workforce in the next 10 years in order to adequately address the significant shortage in workers, which is also being compounded by those retiring.

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“There are a number of vets schools in Canada, all of which are accredited, and there’s certain challenges of course as far as [you] can’t just increase the amount of seats because most of these are also sponsored by provincial governments.

“One of the things the CVMA is doing is working together with provinces,” explained Dr. Louis Kwantes, president-elect with Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

There are currently only five veterinary schools across Canada and they are all region-locked, meaning only those who are permanent residents in the specific region can apply.

The schools also have limited seats available. For instance, the faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary is one of two veterinarian schools in all of western Canada, only has 50 seats available and does not accept applicants from outside the province.

In order for the school to increase seats, the Alberta government would need to increase its funding for the program.

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Dr. Kwantes goes on to say since every seat in a school requires quite a bit of money from its respective provincial government, it can take years to increase enrolment numbers.

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In the interim, the CVMA is looking at solutions including encouraging people to come to Canada who are licensed veterinarians from accredited colleges, and selective ways for licensure.

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Another big issue facing the industry is poor mental health.

With long, gruelling hours, a pay scale lower than doctors and nurses, the veterinarian profession has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

“We deal with significant challenges associated with end-of-life decisions… and veterinary care is not paid by the government,” Kwantes said.

“Often times, we also have decisions that need to be made because of economic reasons.”

The CVMA says there are professional supports in place, however the toughest part can be getting past the stigma of asking for help.

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