Labour shortage bites veterinary practices

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

Local veterinary practices are feeling the bite of the provincewide labour shortage. The Animavet clinic in Bromont is one of several area clinics that has recently had to reduce its service hours.

“The veterinary world is in crisis and there is a huge lack of employees (veterinarians and veterinary technicians) and there’s also an increased demand for our services, because a lot of you have decided to adopt a new pet,” co-owners Valérie Forest and Alexandre Carrier wrote in a recent Facebook post, explaining why the clinic would have to close on Saturdays until further notice. At the beginning of this year, the Ordre des médecins véterinaires du Québec decided to issue an unprecedented bulletin advising dog owners to avoid crowded places and essentially physically distance their dogs, to reduce the risk of a dog picking up an illness or injury and being unable to access veterinary care.

Francis Rousseau is a Sherbrooke-based veterinary technician and the president of the Association des techniciens en santé animale du Québec. He says the labour shortage has multiple causes. “Fifty per cent [of new veterinary technicians] will leave the profession after a few years because of the working conditions, a lack of work-life balance and low pay – $16-17 per hour before the pandemic, $18-19 after,” he says. “Vet care is expensive, and a lot of people can’t afford it, so we rarely get the chance to use our skills, because people decide to take their pet home or put it to sleep instead of having us care for it. There are a lot of broken dreams of little girls and boys…and the pandemic was the drop that spilled the vase for a lot of people. Even if we do get paid more, there’s a lot of exhaustion and compassion fatigue and lack of recognition.”

He called on the province to set up a certification program which is valid in other provinces and mandates continuing education, to encourage young vet techs to stay in the profession. He also noted that if more pet owners got veterinary insurance, more animals would get the care they needed instead of falling victim to “convenience euthanasia.”

Dr. Gaston Rioux is the president of the OMVQ. He says the vet shortage is attributable to a number of factors. The province has a single school of veterinary medicine, in Saint-Hyacinthe, which graduates less than 100 vets per year; a satellite campus is being set up in Rimouski.

“The pandemic did not help, because at the beginning vaccinations and surgeries had to be pushed back – vets could only work in emergencies – and safety measures meant clinics had to receive fewer clients. People were also adopting more pets because of lockdown, and the first year of life is when an animal needs the most vet care. It’s been very hard. Dog and cat owners are [also] more and more attentive to their animals, which creates more work for the same number of professionals,” he says.

A recent OMVQ survey suggests a growing number of veterinarians – as many as 50 per cent – are also thinking about quitting the field, according to Rioux. In the coming year, he hopes to “find solutions for the problem of retention” and encourage the province to make it easier for foreign-trained veterinarians to have their credentials recognized in Quebec. He is eager for the first vets to graduate from the new Rimouski facility. “In the medium term, I think we can be optimistic,” he says.

In the short term, however, he advises pet owners to limit contact between their dogs or cats and other animals, and to ensure that accessible vet care is available in their region before adopting an animal. “If you buy a new car, you need to make sure there’s a garage that can take care of it, and if you buy an animal, you need a vet,” he says.

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