How Has Covid-19 Affected the Global Veterinary Industry?

By Dr Becky Nicholson MRCVS 

Introduction

The global pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and the veterinary industry is no exception. The changes have been felt across all types of the industry but how have veterinary workers had to adapt?  Has there been any disruption for animal or staff welfare? And how does the future look?

The Start of the Pandemic

The initial outbreak of Covid-19 in Europe in March 2020 probably caused the biggest shockwaves to the industry. Whilst emergency work largely continued, footfall was down as people were wary about leaving the house.

This resulted in a number of veterinary staff moving onto furlough schemes or facing unemployment as veterinary practices anticipated a loss of income.

Staff absences were also an issue due to the rising number of Covid cases and the need to isolate.  The pressures on vet services were increased further as pet ownership soared during the

lockdowns, creating a perfect storm for increasing the strain of vets.

Due to disruptions in the global supply chains, some vital medicines and supplies were in short supply or no longer available. So, with an increased demand for veterinary services but with greater issues around staffing and supplies – many vets and veterinary practice owners were feeling the pressure.  

The Industry Adapts

Despite the speed and scale of the challenges caused by Covid-19, the veterinary world reacted swiftly. As key workers throughout the pandemic, veterinarians were often working longer and in tricky situations, but constantly finding ways to adapt and evolve.

The pandemic has forced vets to improve technological innovation in the industry.  Telemedicine is a good example of how new changes – forced by the pandemic – may actually have helped the industry to involve and continue to be used even post-pandemic.

In addition, the industry has increased efficiency with added automation and investment in systems such as remote prescribing, home delivery, online payment, ease of setting up pet healthcare and insurance pans.

The strength of the profession has also been shown in the resilience and dedication of its most important asset – the vets themselves.  From culling farmed mink, to educating first-time pet owners on care, to maintaining food standards with disruption in the global food chain – veterinary work has been more important than ever during the pandemic. Across the world, veterinarians have risen to these greater challenges, working harder than ever and adapting to the extra pressures in the industry. 

Working Conditions

As mentioned above working conditions have been, and remain, difficult for vets, due to a greater demand with staffing issues and disruption in the supply chain. Combined with the added risk of Covid infection, and it’s clear the pressures on vets.

The result is a physically and mentally exhausted global workforce and a crisis in vet recruitment. It’s clear that many vets are feeling the effects of a challenging period, and need to communicate this with their employer in order to avoid burnout.

The Financial Outlook

Many nations reported growth in the veterinary sector during the pandemic despite the various lockdowns. Even in countries where only emergency work was permitted, and turnover dropped, it is being recuperated as more regular veterinary work has returned.  

 

Prices have risen globally for veterinary medical supplies, but despite this cost being passed on to pet owners – the public have been more than happy to take on these costs. Veterinary business owners – certainly in the small animal niche – will have a positive outlook for the future as pets have taken on greater importance in people’s lives.

Effects on Students

The final years of veterinary education have been disrupted due to the difficulty in gaining workplace experience, which will have affected their ability to adapt in their first vet job. With greater time pressures on clinical mentors, graduates may need to be given more time and guidance in their first veterinary roles.  

In summary

The veterinary world has had to change massively due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The greater challenges have meant that the global veterinary profession has had to come together like never before in order to adapt and succeed. 

There is a well-justified pride in the flexibility of veterinary business owners and the strength and endurance of the workforce. The veterinary industry deserves great praise for how it has adapted, and its strength in working together to fight challenges.  

Thanks to the strength of its workforce and technological innovation, the future looks positive in the industry. That said, there needs to be added understanding of the physical and mental pressures on vets, as well as maintaining high standards of animal care, if telemedicine are to continue post-pandemic.