The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on veterinarians

WINNIPEG — Reagan Takeuchi and her partner have been the proud owners of Millie, a golden retriever mix, for about one year.

The dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic played a big role in their decision to get a pet.

“We both figured out that we were going to be working from home, so we knew we had the time and attention to spend on a new pup,” said Takeuchi.

It’s not exactly a unique experience. Plenty of Manitobans became pet owners during the pandemic.

“I can honestly say in the thirty years (of the shelter), I’ve never seen empty cages in the way that we had (at the start of the pandemic),” said Carla Martinelli-Irvine, founder and executive director of the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter.

Martinelli-Irvine said most of the people who were adopting pets during the first wave of the pandemic, about seventy-five per cent, were first-time pet owners.

Some have had to return their adopted pets after experiencing the ongoing costs needed to care for an animal, particularly when it comes to food. There are also additional costs tied to necessary visits to the veterinarian, said Martinelli-Irvine.

For veterinarians, all of the relatively new pet owners are creating a marked uptick in appointments at animal care clinics and hospitals.

“The demand is at max capacity,” said Dr. Alison Litchfield, president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association who also treats patients at the Southglen Veterinary Hospital.

New pets need vaccines, says Litchfield, and adding those appointments to regular wellness checks and emergency care visits is making things much busier.

“It is extremely busy in every practice I’ve heard of and in our practice. It’s kind of busier than it’s ever been,” she said.

Some pet owners may now find they need to wait a little while longer than usual to get an appointment for their pet, especially for non-urgent matters.

Pandemic safety procedures, which have veterinary clinics and animal hospitals using a “curbside care” model for most appointments, are also adding to wait times.

Information on a pet’s condition needs to be obtained over the phone, says Litchfield. Appointments need to be a bit longer and not as many animals can be in the clinic at the same time under the new rules.

“Everything just slows down a little bit in the clinic,” said Litchfield.

For Takeuchi, who has never met her pet’s veterinarian, the new setup is an odd experience.

“There’s definitely a level of trust that we have to have,” said Takeuchi. “It’s definitely strange putting so much trust into someone you’ve never met face-to-face.”  

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