Thunder Bay, Ont. — Pet owners are finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible to find a veterinarian to provide health care for their pets. 

Calls to Thunder Bay veterinary clinics are answered with, “We are not taking new clients at this time.” 

The shortage of veterinarians across Canada is causing clinics to run at capacity and some are dropping patients that don’t utilize their service for a period of time. 

Tanis Ylimaki, Crossroads Veterinary Clinic practice manager, told The Chronicle-Journal the reason clinics are declining pet patients is a “combination of a lot of people getting pets and not a lot of veterinarians or support staff to staff the clinics properly.”  And the pandemic had a lot to do with that. 

“Once the pandemic hit, everyone decided that it would be a good time to get a cat or a dog because everyone was home,” Ylimaki said. “It was like this big boom in pet ownership and we in the veterinary industry just couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

Ylimaki  called the shortage “absolutely critical.”

“Just looking at my clinic,  I have three veterinarians that are coming up to retirement that are already past retirement age, and a lack of candidates to replace them,” she said. “Primarily, we just don’t have enough veterinarians and veterinary technicians are also starting to get hard to come by as well. You need both in order to run a clinic successfully and that’s the major reason why our wait times are so long.”

Ylimaki said they do offer clients spaces for emergencies and are always ready to help if there’s an emergency situation, yet for routine appointments, they are booking six weeks out right now. 

Depending on if you have a specific veterinarian, it could be up to eight weeks.

“We are trying to especially help those people that are moving to Thunder Bay from out of town but we have to be selective who we take because we are so overwhelmed with our current patient load,” Ylimaki said. “It’s not just 100 per cent ‘No’, it’s more like a ‘maybe.’ We are trying as best as we can. “

If you don’t have a vet clinic within the city, Ylimaki recommends virtual services. 

 “They have been very successful for us in the past year and we do recommend a service called Smart Vet,” she said.

Smart Vet is based in Ontario and when you call the Smart Vet line you can book a virtual exam with an Ontario-based veterinarian. The exam can be on your phone or you can do it virtually. 

“If they deem treatment necessary or if they write a prescription, then they’ll connect with us and we can give that medication to them to help (the client),” she said. “We can run lab results, blood work or your analysis and send the results. It’s working in a really good way to help those people that don’t have a local clinic.”

Ylimaki says the Thunder Bay and District Humane Society is “your best bet” for spay and neutering services. 

“I know there is very high demand and getting an appointment there is difficult but it is a low-cost spay-neuter clinic so that’s great news for those people looking for that. But it is in very high demand so it’s hard to get appointments,” she said. “Anybody that has been looking for spaying, neutering, vaccinations or anything like that, we do recommend out-of-town clinics but unfortunately people have to drive.”

For those who are considering getting a pet, Ylimaki says she would absolutely recommend securing a veterinarian before you get your pet. 

“Whether that’s in town or out of town, just have something secure for vaccinations and emergency care before you get the pet,” she said. “I would never tell anyone not to get a pet because pets are such a great part of everyone’s life.” 

She says people should be realistic about expenses and ensure proper health care for their pets. 

The Chronicle-Journal reached out to all local veterinarian clinics several times to contribute to this story. Neither Northwest Veterinary Clinic, Thunder Bay Veterinary Hospital or  Highview Veterinary Clinic were available for comment.

By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 04, 2023 at 10:00

This item reprinted with permission from   The Chronicle-Journal   Thunder Bay, Ontario
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