Equine vet update

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Dr. Welsford in action floating Trooper's teeth on June 7, 2023. Photo by Katharine Fletcher.

Katharine Fletcher

 MUNICIPALITY OF PONTIAC – The Outaouais region is suffering from a shortage of veterinarians, a situation mirrored across Canada and the world. However, since 36-year-old local vet Dr. Andrea Kelly took her life in July 2022, approximately 600 horses were suddenly without vet care and a continuing crisis ensued.

Dr. Kelly owned Kemptville’s Ottawa Valley Large Animal Clinic (OVLAC), which has subsequently closed.

Without vets, Pontiac’s equestrian community sprang into action. They lobbied government organizations such as Cheval Québec and L’Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec. They also helped Pontiacers trailer their horses to vet clinics in Ontario, shared expertise, and supported one another whenever possible.

In a November 20, 2023 press release, Cheval Québec explained that although six equine vets practice in the Outaouais, “five have been practicing here for over 35 years, and no new veterinarians are expected to arrive in the coming year.”

Meanwhile, Ontario’s three partner clinics (Rideau-St Lawrence, Prescott-Russell, and Navan Veterinary Services) helped, including doctoring animals trailered to their Ontario premises. Unfortunately, because of Quebec’s strict licencing and language laws, Ontario vets aren’t permitted to practice here. Moreover, because trailering is often impossible, especially in emergencies, animals remained at risk.

Understanding the severity of the situation, the Quebec government has provisionally relaxed regulations. Starting last   May with one vet, now three Navan Veterinary Services vets are licenced to practise here. The two other partner clinics are assisting by accepting Pontiac horses for referral surgeries and certain in-clinic treatments.

To introduce themselves to Pontiac’s large-animal owners, staff and vets from all three clinics held a “Meet and Greet” at the Quyon Community Centre, November 16. About 50 Pontiac equine and bovine owners attended.

Veterinarian Dr. Jean Cyr, a partner at Navan Veterinary Services, greeted attendees and introduced vets who discussed equine issues related to fever, colic, lameness and choking.

Everyone encouraged a team effort, suggesting what owners might do themselves as first aid before “automatically” calling a vet. Such interventions, explained Dr. Cyr, could prevent unnecessary vet calls at a time when the clinics’ services are stretched, particularly due to often two-hour drives to get to a patient. However, all vets stressed that owners should call if they need help.

Dr. Cyr emphasized that the clinics hope to expand services to four times a week – if they can attract more staff and pending Quebec’s provisional licensing.

Meanwhile, Cheval Québec’s press release explained that the “field of equine practice is largely unknown” to vet students who mostly come from big cities, because “contact with horses is virtually non-existent.” Therefore, Cheval Québec initiated financial incentives for students at the Université de Montreal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine where three students received internships in 2023, working with horses. Four internships are planned for 2024.

“Clearly, at this rate, change is a long time coming,” Cheval Quebec concluded.