Kelowna pet hospital becomes emergency clinic only due to vet shortage, spike in demand | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna pet hospital becomes emergency clinic only due to vet shortage, spike in demand

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Due to the unprecedented number of pets needing care and a shortage of vets, a Kelowna veterinary clinic is only offering emergency services from here on out.

Jennifer Watt, veterinarian and co-owner of Fairfield Animal Hospital, said the clinic is only offering emergency service starting this month and will be closing its day clinic.

It is the only animal hospital that has a 24-hour emergency centre in the Okanagan.

During the pandemic, pet owners aren’t allowed to come into the building, which has slowed down the reception and appointments, Watt said.

“With people being home, there’s been an explosion of pets in the city. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but everyone has a dog or a cat now. People aren’t travelling so they're being a lot more active with their pets around here and we’re seeing a lot more sick pets, traumas, accidents, things like that,” Watt said. “Our emergency practice has gone crazy.”

She couldn’t quantify the exact increase, but last summer they saw a 25% in business compared to 2019.

“This summer it seems to be off with a bang all over (again,)” she said.

Okanagan puppy sales and pet store supplies are flying off the shelves amid COVID-19. Owners are also buying “top notch” veterinary care.

“They want the gold standard for their pets… they’re being very-well cared for,” Watt said.

The average B.C. pet owner will spend roughly $2,560 on their animal in 2021, according to, an insurance data analysis company. Nationally, Canadians will spend $2,430, a 1.5% increase from 2020.

READ MORE: Okanagan puppy sales, pet store supplies spike amid pandemic

Another challenge for the clinic is being able to find veterinarians to keep up with the demand. Watt said at one time they had 11 vets in the emergency department but now only have seven.

“Because we’re so busy, other clinics aren’t seeing their patients in a timely fashion so they’re spilling over to us. So we’re becoming busier, as well as there’s a doctor shortage in B.C. and all across the province, so we’re really feeling it," she said. “We have to give up our day practice and send out clients to other practices we have in the group.”

There are only a few veterinary schools in Canada. The Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan has about 80 spots a year for vets for its four-year subsidized program, with a certain number of spots available for B.C. residents, Watt said.  Alberta pulled out of the interprovincial agreement in 2017 to funnel its $8 million contribution into a new veterinary school at the University of Calgary.

The B.C. SPCA has launched a pledge campaign asking the provincial government to provide funding for 20 additional spaces for B.C. students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

A labour market study conducted by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training in 2019 indicated B.C. would be short 100 veterinarians per year for each of the subsequent five years, culminating in a shortage of 500 veterinarians by 2024, according to the SPCA.

“Most of (the new vets) go to the coast and the Mainland and other places,” Watt said.

Recruitment is also difficult during the pandemic as movement has been restricted so vets may be unable to see the clinic and the city, she said.

Fairfield may consider reopening the day practice, but now all the staff needs to focus on emergency care, Watt said.

Annual pet prescriptions will continue to be filled until the pet’s next annual exam at the centre. Pet food sales will also continue but all routine appointments, vaccines, annual exams and surgeries will be routed to one of five other clinics in the Central Okanagan, according to a statement posted on the clinic’s Facebook page.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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