Are We Heading for a Pet Health Crisis?

Like all veterinary practices, our cat-only clinic has remained open throughout the pandemic. We have found new ways of working, navigated lockdowns and local outbreaks and restructured our team and premises all to allow us to continue to look after our patients. 

A team with countless years of experience, who have weathered many a storm, have been stretched further than ever before. On chatting to other colleagues in the veterinary field it seems the fallout from the pandemic has been felt across the UK, we have quite simply never seen anything like this. 

So, what is feeding this far from purr-fect, pandemic pet storm? Let’s take a closer look at the factors at play.

How much is that doggy in the window?

OK, so we thankfully do not see many doggies in pet shop windows anymore (that is a story for another time) But like us, you must have noticed an increase in the number we see on walks along with new pet photos filling our friend’s social media streams? 

You may be shocked to know that two-thirds of all UK households now own at least one pet. New pet owners have remained quite steady in recent years, until 2020/21 when there has been an 11% increase in ownership. The sharp increase in new puppy owners even coined the name, pandemic pups. 

3.2 million households have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic (Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association)

More than half of new owners are below the age of 35, many may not have had the responsibility of being a pet owner before. 

The bonds we share with our pets have never been as important as in recent times during the pandemic. Research teams from York and Lincoln universities recently found 91% of dog owners, 89% of cat owners and 86% who owned other species of animal felt their pet helped them cope emotionally. So the attraction of bringing home a new furry family member is completely understandable given the last year of mental hardship. 

Why is it so difficult to see my vet, aren’t the restrictions over?

Although compulsory restrictions such as social distancing, lockdowns and mask-wearing are not currently in force,

 many veterinary clinics still need to ask for your co-operation to protect their team and ultimately provide care to your pet.

Veterinary teams work in extremely close proximity to one another, this is unavoidable. For example, when a nurse monitors your pet’s anaesthetic they are positioned near your pet’s head. The operating veterinarian will be in the optimum position to operate on your pet, in a feline patient for example this will obviously not be too far away from their assisting nurse. As we all know, PPE and vaccination cannot provide 100% cover. So, theoretically, a positive case in practice could easily spread between the team, if the team needed to isolate then the practice would need to close. That means a lack of cover for your pet, with all cases being transferred to a neighbouring, equally busy surgery. This is not a situation we would ever want to be in. 

By taking simple, considered steps, such as reducing the number of people veterinary staff come into contact with, triaging cases over the phone or with video consults we can all mitigate risks. 

Why not take on more veterinary staff to help with the increase in need?

This in itself highlights another current concern within the veterinary community. We are currently in the midst of a recruitment, retention crisis also hampered by the new difficulty in recruiting qualified veterinarians from the EU. Many older experienced nursing staff have left the profession, and current demand is outstripping supply. 

All practices are still giving 100%, and are busier than they have even been with reduced staff. Please be kind, your pets health and wellbeing remains their priority. 

If everyone is taking on a new pet, why are the rescue centres still full?

With the easing of restrictions, a lot of personal circumstances have changed since bringing home a new pet. People are returning to their office, hobbies and planning holidays and social events.

Many people are facing financial hardship and had not realised the costs of keeping a pet, which sadly they cannot afford.

The Dogs Trust, a leading UK rehoming and rescue charity, has seen a 35% increase in calls relating to giving up a dog in the last few weeks, with Battersea cat and dog shelter warning of an imminent welfare crisis. Rescue centres themselves had had a tough year, with more than half seeing a drop in income of over 50%.

What can we do to avoid a collapse in animal health care and a pet welfare crisis?

After discussing the above, these are the driving factors of a potential pet health crisis;

  • Increase in pet ownership

  • Shortage of veterinary staff

  • An increase in pets surrendered to already struggling shelters

What can we do as owners, caregivers and professionals to help alleviate the onset of a negative impact on pets? Our pets have never needed us more than now.  Responsible ownership and preventative health is not the complete solution but can certainly help reduce the burden on our pets health and their health service providers. 

We all want the very best for our pets, our vision is to support, educate and enlighten owners on preventative healthcare.

Here are our top ten tips for responsible ownership.

  • Before bringing any new pet home do your research. 

  • Keep vaccinations up to date including boosters

  • Daily toothbrushing (check out our dental health blog)

  • Microchipping

  • Worm and flea control

  • Life long insurance

  • Grooming

  • Monthly weight check – read why in our weight management blog

  • Training and exercise

  • Register with your vet and attend checks

If you are a new puppy owner you may also find our recent blog on caring for a new puppy helpful.

If you can do ONE thing for your pet, please REMEMBER our homecare routine W.E.T.S.

Weigh – monthly weight check to note any unexpected changes.

Examine – nose to tail check of eyes/nose/ears, any sore skin, swollen or painful areas

Teeth – having a gentle check for any sore looking gums, teeth or oral lumps.