Vets ‘pushed to the limits’ during shortage

Veterinarians are struggling to keep up with demand as Covid affects more than just an increase in pet ownership.

When lockdowns began in 2020, traveling was put on hold and many worked from home, seeing animal lovers take the opportunity to adopt a pet.

But with the responsibility of pet ownership, comes vet visits, and the clinics say there is a lot of stress on the profession as they put in long hours to keep up.

Nelson’s Victory Vets veterinarian Brendan Hickman said Covid lockdowns had created a “perfect storm”.

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Pet owners have been reminded to get their young puppies vaccinated before going out and about.

Pet ownership increased during the pandemic as people realized the affect animals had on mental health and general happiness, he said.

“On top of the upsurge in pet ownership, there’s also been a significant increase in what people are willing to do for their pets.”

He said for many couples, a pet was like a child, “so the value placed on pets has gone up”.

And while more pet owners are visiting the animal hospital more often, the amount of veterinarians in the country has decreased with closed borders.

Previously the country survived on vets from overseas, Hickman said, but in the last two years, they hadn’t been coming in which “coincided nicely with the upsurge in pet ownership”.

He said while Victory Vets was lucky to be well-staffed, he knew of many clinics grappling with finding staff.

In April, Victory Vets was opening a second clinic in Saxton Road, he said.

Owners are placing more value on their pets than ever before, with many couples having a pet instead of children.  (Picture file)

LUZ ZUNIGA

Owners are placing more value on their pets than ever before, with many couples having a pet instead of children. (Picture file)

“That’s due to … vet services increasing. We’ve been bursting at the seams so we’re opening a biggish new clinic to help service our clients. Currently, we have two consult rooms, and we’re just slammed, all day, every day.”

A Tasman District vet agrees the closed borders are having a huge impact on the industry.

Town and Country Vet Richmond senior director, Roger Bay said there had always been a pressure on vets before Covid but “there was always a safety valve”.

“International vets were available and looked at New Zealand as a great overseas experience. We had good experienced vets wanting to come”.

He said there was a shortfall of 250 vets around the country and the Government had only allowed special exception for 30 to enter New Zealand borders.

Town and Country Vet Richmond senior director Roger Bay says the vet shortage wasn't new, but pre-covid, vets coming to New Zealand from overseas were a “safety valve”.

Braden Fastier/Stuff

Town and Country Vet Richmond senior director Roger Bay says the vet shortage wasn’t new, but pre-covid, vets coming to New Zealand from overseas were a “safety valve”.

“It’s very hard to fill the gap.”

He said work visas for vets had been generally easily obtained but “Covid’s killed all that for us”.

Pre-Covid, pet owners were able to secure an appointment within 24 hours of making a call, he said, now they were having to wait a few days for a routine appointment.

Emergencies were always catered for but staff were spending longer hours in the clinic seeing them “dig deeper into personal time”, he said.

“The personal strain is quite high on all of us.”

Bay says there's a shortfall of 250 vets around the country, with a Government allowance made for only 30 to pass through New Zealand borders.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF

Bay says there’s a shortfall of 250 vets around the country, with a Government allowance made for only 30 to pass through New Zealand borders.

Dog ownership has gone up by nearly 1000 in the Nelson region since the pandemic struck. In Tasman between 2018 and 2019, 11,284 dogs were registered, compared to the current figure of 12,089, Tasman District Council communications advisor Chris Choat said.

Meanwhile, Nelson City Council figures show 5901 dogs registered during 2018 and 2019, while the 2020 and 2021 figures show an increase to 6079.

New Zealand Veterinary Association chief executive Kevin Bryant said the nationwide shortage was being felt “everywhere from city clinics through to rural practices”.

“Pet and animal owners are being encouraged to be patient when booking appointments for their animals at the moment.”

Meanwhile, there was no quick fix for the shortage, which was global, Hickman said.

He said the problem wasn’t the amount of vets being trained, it was the inability to retain vets in the profession.

Vets were getting burnt out after less than five years, leaving for roles that used their vet skills without being in a clinic, he said.

He said staff were so “stretched and pushed to the limits” while regularly doing 10 to 12-hour days.

“To the public out there, we’ve got a profession of lovely, empathising awesome professionals from the receptionist to the vet, who really do care. We are under the pump, and we’re going to be under the pump for a few years yet, so please be a little bit patient with us, and give us the time.”

MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF

Town and Country vet Roger Bay and his team euthanize a growing number of animals at home, where the pet’s last memory is of its happy place.

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