Veterinarians struggling burnout, forcing some Calgary animal clinics and hospitals to scale back hours

CALGARY – As the pandemic worsens, veterinarians are getting more and more tired. Everyone is hit by COVID-19 and the restrictions on people’s health, but those in the veterinary field are also facing more patients, higher levels of stress, and staff shortages.

“It’s a snowball effect as we feel overwhelmed most of the time and many employees are burned out,” said Dr. Lorenza Malaguti, the medical director of McKnight Veterinary Hospital in Calgary.

A recent survey by ROYALE found that one in six Canadians adopted a cat or dog during the pandemic. Some of these pets are becoming patients, with veterinary clinics and hospitals seeing an increase in the past 13 months.

In addition, veterinarians say they have already faced a lack of resources.

“We have a shortage of veterinarians, veterinary technicians in many regions of the country, and then a pandemic breaks out that affects education, training and licensing,” said Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury, Newfoundland Veterinarian and a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

MENTAL HEALTH RISK

Even before the pandemic, people in the veterinary sector were at higher risk for mental health problems than the general public.

A report from the University of Guelph published in February 2020 found that about 17 percent of Canadian veterinarians have had or had suicidal thoughts. By comparison, a survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association found that about six percent of Canadians had thoughts of suicide.

Burnout, stressful vacations, and additional staff shortages due to veterinarians needing to be isolated during the pandemic have resulted in some clinics limiting working hours.

“Some of the other hospitals in town have had to close at night because they don’t have an ambulance. We had to, too,” said Dr. Malaguti.

“It burdens us even more because we want to be there for people.”

More pet patients mean longer waiting times, and veterinarians say job losses caused by the pandemic have put some people in difficult financial situations when bringing in their animals.

“It is a moral burden to have to choose between protecting your own health and your own staff … or caring for those animals that you chose in the industry,” said Dr. Brown-Bury.