Securing a Healthy Future

What you need to know

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Countries like Australia are liberalizing rental laws to make it easier to own a pet, while the UK has passed legislation aimed at welfare.

Public investment in veterinary services remains low,

which risks creating a shortage in providers as pet populations increase.

Veterinary shortages are here.

Veterinary groups in countries across the world are calling attention to a ‘perfect storm’ of insufficient veterinarians and rising pet population.

Innovation is needed

to support both veterinary practice operations and pet care, but regulations may slow delivery.

Policy and Regulation

How are governments reacting to growing pet populations?

Some governments have made dedicated efforts to respond to the rise in pet ownership. For example, in response to a growing need for veterinarians:

Brazil has opened state-run pet hospitals, whilst in other emerging markets, such as South Africa, there are no public clinics to meet demand.1http://www.sava.co.za/2015/10/28/cvc/

Australia has adopted new laws making it easier for those renting properties to own pets.2https://www.vcat.vic.gov.au/news/new-laws-about-pets-rental-properties https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-standard-tenancy-agreement-to-help-renters-with-well-behaved-petsIn England, the government has developed a ‘Model Tenancy Agreement’ that landlords can adopt, which facilitates pet ownership, however use remains voluntary and more is needed to encourage uptake by landlords.3https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-standard-tenancy-agreement-to-help-renters-with-well-behaved-pets

Legislative efforts have also targeted practices that are harmful to pet health and welfare. For instance, in the UK, new legislation aims to improve existing standards of pet breeding. Other laws have officially recognized animal ‘sentience’ in a bid to promote further pet welfare by ensure pets “taken into account” when developing policy.4https://www.gov.uk/government/news/animals-to-be-formally-recognised-as-sentient-beings-in-domestic-lawIn Spain, judges are also obliged to consider “eats as sentient beings” when deciding domestic proceedings such as divorce.5https://www.gov.uk/government/news/animals-to-be-formally-recognised-as-sentient-beings-in-domestic-law

Some have noted that laws that change the legal status of pets could create unintended consequences and challenging legal issues in some markets, for instance around liability and insurance requirements. This may ultimately increase costs of ownership.

“In Brazil, in a lot of cities, there are public pet hospitals so people can get care and the price and tax is very low. This helps families with a lower income. The government is also trying to improve the number of veterinary hospitals.”

Leonardo Brandao, DVM, Pet Health Industry Regional Manager, Brazil

What policies could support better pet health?

Government efforts such as coordinated strategies for disease control and coordinated neutering of stray populations to promote better animal health, particularly in developing regions, can improve the health of pets.

However, healthy pets also need ‘healthy advocates’ to provide this care. Policies that support the people around the pet can ultimately help their overall health. These can include:

Greater public investment to recruit people to join the field of veterinary medicine.

Increased access and promotion of mental health resources for veterinarians.

Recognition of the human-animal bond as a path to strengthen public health.

Coordinated strategies for disease control and coordinated neutering of stray populations to promote better animal health, particularly in developing regions.

“There should be much more attention to the human-animal bond in the education of veterinarians, and they should have a human-animal bond centered practice.”

Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers, President, International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations

What could help improve veterinary medicine?

  • Developing more responsive and consistent regulation, allowing manufacturers to respond to new disease threats without having to repeat safety assessments for existing technologies in each new market.
  • Updating regulations to keep pace with emerging areas of innovation, such as genetic treatments and digital technologies, which do not have the same characteristics as traditional pharmaceutical products.
  • Developing new regulatory approaches through regulatory harmonization or considering new approvals by trusted trading partners as a criteria for fast-tracking a product assessment.

Veterinary Expertise

As pet populations grow, so must the number of veterinarians and veterinary professionals. We are not meeting this demand today and the problem will grow in the future if left unaddressed.

Will countries meet the demand for small animal veterinarians?

Veterinarian shortages are already on the rise across much of the world and the problem seems unlikely to abate soon.

  • A survey by Mars Veterinary Health found that in the U.S. “it would take more than 30 years of graduates to meet the 10-year industry need for credentialed veterinary technicians.” As a result, Mars estimates that over 75 million pets may not have access to care by 2030.6https://www.marsveterinary.com/tackling-the-veterinary-professional-shortage/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiospm&stream=top
  • This feeling is echoed in markets like the UK where the British Veterinary Association has raised the alarm about a ‘veterinary workforce crisis’.7https://www.bva.co.uk/news-and-blog/news-article/uk-s-veterinary-workforce-crisis-deepens-as-eu-registrant-numbers-drop-by-over-two-thirds-since-brexit/
  • The Veterinary Council of Ireland has said Brexit and pet ownership increases have created a “perfect storm” where practices are struggling to recruit staff as pet populations skyrocket.8https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/farming-news/shortage-of-vets-leading-to-burnout-in-profession-40888794.html
  • Across the ocean in Canada, the College of Veterinarians in Ontario has reported “increasingly fewer veterinarians for the jobs that [are] available…coupled with a real big upsurged during the pandemic of pet owners.”9https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/vet-shortage-veterinary-pandemic-puppy-1.6159143

“We should advocate for the importance of companion animals. Currently they’re not seen as economically important.”

Dr Siraya Chunekamrai, President, World Small Animal Veterinary Association

It is clear that for developed markets, trends point to growth in the veterinary profession, but not nearly enough to meet the future needs of the pet health sector. Solutions are complex with some pointing to hurdles as diverse as student debt in the United States, a lack of work-life balance in the veterinary culture, and insufficient outreach to underrepresented communities in the profession.10https://www.marsveterinary.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Final%20MVH%20Vet%20Shortage%20Infographic.pdf

The shortages of small animal veterinarians is also acute in low-income countries. These regions are also experiencing greater challenges in animal health, and the conditions and pressure facing veterinarians is often worse than in developed markets. These include:

  • Questions over the cost of training versus the income potential of working in an underdeveloped pet health sector.
  • Fewer resources and less demand because of a greater market for livestock veterinarians, and greater emphasis upon livestock practice, in developing countries.
  • Inability to access newer medicines and innovations due to regulatory requirements that keep companies from accessing the market.11https://www.healthforanimals.org/reports/innovation-report/

Spotlight on innovations in pet health

How veterinarians deliver care for pets, and the kinds of illnesses and diseases they can treat, is rapidly changing.

How veterinarians deliver care for pets, and the kinds of illnesses and diseases they can treat, is rapidly changing.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning is powering tools that help veterinarians deliver increasingly rapid and accurate diagnoses of diseases in pets and allow for earlier treatment, which offers greater chance of success and lower impact on animal welfare.

‘Big data’ tools can leverage the accumulated diagnostic profiles of countless animals to pinpoint new risk factors for illnesses like cancer and facilitate better preventative action.

As pets grow older, they are also facing new challenges. But new technologies and treatments that are either entering the market or on the horizon can help veterinarians and pet owners adapt. Cutting-edge gene therapy treatments, for instance, could allow vets to address the list of cancers that are common in older pets.

More information on innovation in veterinary care can be found at: HealthforAnimals.org/InnovationReport

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Acknowledgements

This report is produced by HealthforAnimals, the global animal health association, and was informed by interviews with experts in the pet world. We thank the following people for their participation: Alex Douzet, Dana Brooks, Edival Santos, Lawson Cairns, Leonardo Brandao, Marie-Jose Enders, Siraya Chunkekamrai, Shane Ryan and Wolfgang Dohne. The information in this report focuses on dogs and cats as these are the overwhelming majority of pets, although other animals such as horses, birds and fish can be pets as well.