Why Ontario's veterinarian shortage can partly be blamed on millennials

Ontario is experiencing an acute shortage of veterinarians, and millennials are partly to blame.

Ontario's Veterinary College has not changed the number of vets it graduates in the last 15 years

Ontario has a veterinarian shortage, partly because young pet owners are taking better care of their pets, and young vets are working fewer hours. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Ontario is experiencing an acute shortage of veterinarians, and millennials are partly to blame. 

The number of help-wanted ads for vets has tripled in the last two years, said Dr. Jeff Wichtel, dean of the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. It's one of only five such schools in the country. 

These days, there are usually about 140 job openings for vets across the province. 

The college graduates 120 new vets a year, a number that hasn't changed in 15 years. Shortages used to be common in rural areas, Wichtel said, but now have moved into large and small urban areas. 

An uptick in the economy means more people are owning pets, and more are willing to spend money on vet bills — but young pet owners are leading the charge. 

"Millennials have a different approach to pet ownership. They're very involved pet parents," Wichtel said. 

Millennials budget for their pets and their pets' health care, he said. 

"This generation is putting off having children until much later, so pets receive the care. Often times they'll put off purchase of a house or a car to make sure their pet receives the care they deserve." 

Vets want better work-life balance

At the same time as millennials are demanding more care for their furry companions, they're also unwilling to put in the long hours older generations of veterinarians had to contend with. 

"Our new graduates are no different than other young people, and they're a lot smarter than people from my generation, they're seeking a much better work-life balance," Wichtel said. 

Vets are working about 500 fewer hours annually, compared to previous decades, research shows. 

85 per cent of vet grads are women, and some take time off to have children and come back part-time, he said. 

Dr. Jeff Wichtel is the dean of the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. (Supplied)

Recruiting for new vets has meant adding perks to the job offer — higher salaries, flexible work hours, and even furnished condos to lure vets to some practices. 

Dr. Rupinder Avapal, who runs the Hamilton Road Animal Hospital and the Lucan Animal Hospital said he's advertised four times in the last short while and has gotten just one resume. 

That person ended up leaving shortly after being hired for Alberta. 

"We are unable to find vets," Avapal said. "I had three veterinarians who work with me in the past and they moved to the USA in the past three years." 

Vets in the United States get paid higher wages, and there is less red tape there, he said. 

Trying to find a solution

Although only 120 new vets graduate from the University of Guelph's four-year vet program, there are more who graduate from accredited schools overseas and in the United States, Wichtel said. 

"Even if we were going to increase the number of graduates, it wouldn't help for another five years," he said. "We're doing some research to see if this (shortage) is a new reality or if it's just a blip. What's unknown is the number of Canadians who go to overseas schools and then do or don't come back. That's what we need to find out." 

The Ontario Veterinary Medicine Association is trying to figure out how many Canadian vets leave, and how it can bring them back. 

"We have a wonderful society, a great schooling system, a great way of life, there's quite a bit to attract them to Ontario, despite the colder weather," Wichtel said. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated the University of Guelph's program was five years. It is a four-year program.
    Mar 07, 2018 3:14 PM ET

About the Author

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.