June 14, 2024

The Crisis is Now: The Impact of the Veterinary Professional Shortage

At the OHS, we’re currently grappling with a significant setback: we do not have the staff to operate our Mobile Spay/Neuter Service. After running the program last Thursday, we are now forced to temporarily pause the service.  

As we enter our busiest time of year, resources we were previously able to redirect to the program must be focused on providing for the high population of homeless animals in our care. And before anyone asks, no, the OHS is not overcapacity or turning animals away. We are always available for animals in need.

To fill the gap, we are recruiting for a veterinarian, registered veterinary technician and an assistant veterinary technician, but haven’t seen much interest in the roles. Unfortunately, this is somewhat expected.

The OHS is not the only organization facing a shortage of veterinary staff. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association forecasts that Canada will experience a shortage of veterinarians until 2031 at least, with 5,000 jobs opening in the field and only 4,300 job seekers qualified to fill the roles.

Likely the pandemic has played some part in the shortage, greatly increasing the number of pet owners in the community, however it’s not the only element making an impact. The rising cost of living not only makes veterinary care more difficult to access, but also raises a barrier that bars new professionals from entering the field. While the number of pets needing vets is on the rise, the number of new veterinary professionals graduating has remained stagnant.

Veterinary school tuition fees can range from $10,000 to $70,000 per year, depending on the institution and residency status. Students also contend with the cost of housing, food and transportation, which can easily add tens of thousands of dollars per year. Veterinary students may graduate with substantial debt, adding significant pressure to a person who has just started their career.

Even without financial stress, veterinary roles are emotionally and mentally demanding. Veterinary professionals not only support pets in distress, they also support an owner who may be experiencing significant emotional distress. The toll on a veterinary professional’s mental health is ever-present and well-documented. 

In March, the Ontario government introduced legislation that may help ease the shortage and improve the availability of veterinary care in Ontario. The Enhancing Professional Care for Animals Act looks at expanding the role of veterinary technicians, modernizing guidelines for veterinarians and maintaining quality care for animals.

This bill passed last week, but cost will likely remain an issue for many pet owners. Our 2023 community consultation showed that Ottawa believes the cost of pet care is the most serious concern for pets and their families.

I am hopeful Ontario’s new legislation will improve access to veterinary care in the province. However, the need is now to get the OHS’s Mobile Spay/Neuter Service back on the road and provide for hundreds of cats and their families who will need the OHS’s support this summer.

If you happen to know any veterinary technicians who want to get involved in saving Ottawa’s homeless animals, please send them our way!

Sharon Miko
President & CEO