The COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to a growing shortage in the number of veterinarians and it is having an impact on patient care at vet clinics across the country.
“The pandemic has not caused it but has certainly played a role in pushing an increase in pet population,” said Dr. Nicole Jewett, registrar for the New Brunswick Medical Association.
With more people working from home amid the pandemic, Jewett said there has been a boom in the pet population across the country and the phones are ringing off the hook at her clinic in the New Brunswick capital city of Fredericton.
“Definitely we are doing our best to get everyone in here in a reasonable time frame,” she said.
But pet owners are experiencing longer wait times for non-emergency care and some clinics in larger Canadian cities have been forced to reduce their ER and OR hours due to staffing shortages, Jewett said.
A national shortage of veterinarians is being felt at clinics across the country. She said a study conducted in 2020 in conjunction with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association found Canada is currently facing a vet shortage.
“The colleges are graduating enough to meet retirement but not the increased demand,” she said.
She said more provincial funding is needed to expand post-secondary training at Canada’s five vet colleges to open up more seats in vet studies.
“In order to reach the increased demand that is projected to peak by 2040 we would need to increase the number of graduating veterinarians by 3.5 to 4 per cent,” said Jewett.
While the industry has been calling for more support, the shortage is approaching a critical stage, says Jewett.
A New Brunswick farmer recently lost a birthing mother and calf because there was no timely access to in-person large animal vet services said Opportunities Coordinator for New Brunswick Cattle Producers, Cedric MacLeod.
“We are not alone in dealing with this … we are seeing this all across the country,” said MacLeod.
He said in New Brunswick larger animal vets are employed by the province and typically earn less income than those in private practice, so recruiting them to practice in rural regions is an ongoing struggle.
While the association lobbies government for more funds to open up more seats, Jewett said that recruitment efforts are underway with area schools to encourage more people to enter the profession. She said the association is also encouraging students to enroll in veterinary technician studies.