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Prince George veterinarians cutting back after-hours services

City lacks 24-hour emergency after-hour pet care centre; veterinarian numbers have dropped nearly 25 per cent over past two years
Vet managers
Office managers from the five of the six veterinary clinics which make up the Prince George After-Hours Urgent Care Group gathered for a media announcement Wednesday morning at Duchess Park dog run. From left are Kate Peebles, Murdoch Veterinary Clinic; Ramona Veeken, Ospika Animal Hospital; Casey Bockus, Prince George Veterinary Hospital; Leah Baker, Hart Family Veterinary Clinic; and Mel Bauman, Birchwood Veterinary Clinic.

If you have a sick or injured pet and need the services of a veterinarian in Prince George, don’t expect to receive that care after 10 p.m.

The six animal health clinics in the city that offer after-hours patient care are cutting back their hours of availability to lighten the load for overworked veterinarians who are sometimes having to work two consecutive day shifts sandwiched around a night shift to  meet their responsibilities.

Effective July 1st, the Prince George Urgent Care Group will be available for emergency care weekdays until 10 p.m. and only from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. on weekends. Due to staff shortages there will be no urgent care available in the city on June 29th, July 25th and 26th, with more days of closure likely to be announced this summer.

For pet owners whose animals face life-threatening situations, the only resort during after-hours time periods will be to access a website - www.vettriage.com – to connect virtually to a qualified technician of veterinarian. If an immediate intervention is needed, pet owners might be forced to travel to another city that has a 24-hour emergency care centre. Kelowna, Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton are the closest options for Prince George residents. Kamloops is also without an emergency care clinic for animals.

“Vet Triage gives you a video conference with a veterinarian and they can judge more if it’s a true emergency or not,” said Ramona Veeken, office manager for Ospika Animal Hospital.

It’s important for pet owners to act quickly to seek veterinary care if a pet is in distress and not wait until after a clinic is closed, added Mel Bauman, manager of Birchwood Veterinary Clinic, who expects the strain of veterinary services will worsen before it improves.

The current shortage of veterinarians, which has seen their numbers drop nearly 25 per cent over the past two years. That’s left the city with just 16 vets, some of whom work only part-time. While their ranks have thinned, the need for their services increased as more people in the city took advantage of more time spent closer to home and became pet owners during the two-year pandemic. As the biggest city in northern B.C., Prince George is a hub for most services people from smaller communities expect it to provide but its lack of an emergency animal care centre puts additional strain on local clinics that don’t have the staff to handle more clients.

Because vet clinics in the city are already stretched beyond capacity, none are accepting new clients and waitlists run into the hundreds. For pet owners who have no relationship with one of the clinics it’s an obvious source of anguish when they are told they can’t get an appointment and some take out their frustrations on clinic receptionists. That’s creating more stress in their jobs that’s led to some of them leaving their positions permanently.

Represented by office and service managers, the group which includes Hart Family Veterinary Clinic, Prince George Veterinary Hospital, Ospika Animal Hospital, Murdoch Veterinary Clinic, College Heights Veterinary Clinic and Birchwood Veterinary Clinic, gathered Wednesday morning at the Duchess Park dog run to announce the changes to after-hours availability.

“We’ve been able to see this coming for a number of years now,,” said Casey Bockus, owner/services manager of P.G. Veterinary Hospital. “It’s always been hard to get veterinarians and technicians in Prince George, but with the last two years since the COVID boom, burnout has been a true thing and our staff are working countless hours trying to keep up.

“As one of the larger practices in town, I  would say we are turning 20 or 30 people away a day that are looking for a veterinary clinic. A lot of people have had to go out of town to Quesnel or further south to get veterinary care.”

Bockus said opening a veterinary teaching college in B.C. and a change in federal policy that would make it easier for foreign veterinarians to work in Canada would help, but neither are short-term solutions to a problem he expects worsen over the next few years.

 

Guide for pet owners to determine what type of veterinary care is needed

Non-urgent care (wait for clinic to open in daytime hours)

Symptoms: Itching/scratching, chronic weight loss, chronic illness/diseases with no recent change in condition, hair loss, red eyes/skin/ears, single seizure with full recovery.

Semi-urgent care (wait for daytime hours or visit www.vettriage.com)

Symptoms: Vomiting (two or fewer episodes), acute diarrhea without vomiting, straining to defecate, witnessed ingestion of foreign body with no signs of illness, blood in urine, straining to urinate for dog or female cat,  small wounds or cuts, non-productive cough but breathing fine otherwise, broken toenail, squinting/eye discharge, significantly swollen eye, allergic reactions (facial swelling, hives), limping, witnessed ingestion of rat poison, mild trauma (single injury), ear infection with head shaking.

Urgent care (visit www.vettriage.com first, then call after-hours emergency group)

Symptoms: Persistent/severe vomiting, appetite loss for more than 24 hours, known foreign body ingestion causing illness, aggressive cough without distress, trouble during active labour/post-birth illness, multiple seizures within 24-hour period but not actively seizing, diarrhea paired with vomiting or loss of appetite, toxin ingestion, blood in urine in a male cat, porcupine quills.

True emergency (immediately contact after-hours emergency group or an emergency clinic)

Symptoms: Respiratory distress, collapse, unable to walk or get up, straining to urinate (especially male cats), active seizure/cluster seizure/epileptic seizure, severe trauma (hit by car, animal attack, severe multiple injuries), profuse bleeding from any wound, persistent non-productive retching.