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National shortage of veterinarians puts pressure on clinics, pet owners


Canada’s yearslong shortage of veterinarians was exacerbated during the pandemic, as more people welcomed pets into their homes to add joy and companionship during lockdowns. Now, concerns around quickly accessing medical care for animals is more urgent than ever, says one vet.

“This problem existed well before the pandemic, we saw it coming down the pipeline in 2020…what happened during the pandemic though is the pet population grew at a rate that was not previously predicted,” said Dr. Trevor Lawson, a Nova Scotia-based veterinarian and the president-elect of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).

“We now have a situation where the individuals needing care are having more trouble than ever getting it, and that’s a stressful situation for the veterinary team and the pet owner,” Lawson told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

According to a workforce study published by the CVMA in May 2020, Canada was already experiencing population growth and an increased pet population, specifically of dogs.

In 2018, about 7 million dogs in Canada visited a vet, compared to 5 million in 2007, the report states.

Canadian veterinarians are graduating at a rate that is about equal to those retiring. A survey within the report also found that one in five clinics hadscaled back hours due to a shortage of vets to fill shifts, especially in Quebec.

“It’s been a big challenge for us,” said Lawson. There have been several initiatives launched to graduate more veterinarians in Canada, with provinces like Manitoba and Saskatchewan announcing more funding in 2022 for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, meaning more seats for students will be open in the College for the 2023-2024 school year.

But that doesn’t solve issues now, nor in every jurisdiction, said Lawson.

For pet owners looking for appointments now, it’s going to take longer than veterinarians would hope, he explained.

“Being very proactive on planning for preventative care is absolutely critical…it hopefully results in fewer emergencies and sick animals,” he said. A lapse in preventative care would lead to more urgent cases, and fewer spots for those in need, said Lawson.

Another solution could rest with the many Canadian students who are trained internationally, and the CVMA is doing work to help make it easier for those students to work at home, said Lawson. At the same time, the organization has reached out to the Ministry of Immigration to make it easier for veterinarians abroad to work in Canada, he said.

As well, veterinarians told CTV National News many vets are suffering from stress due to being overworked, and need relief.

Lawson said he’s also worried about physician burnout. “I worry about individuals in our profession who are exhausted and leaving the profession,” he said. Top Stories

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