People who are considering buying dogs and cats for Christmas are being asked to check if they have access to a vet before they buy due to shortages caused by Brexit and Covid.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging caution after a rise in demand for vets due to the increase in pet ownership in lockdown and the new legal requirement for Brexit health checks on food exports to the EU.
The BVA’s comments come just days after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) warned meat and poultry producers that the shortage of vets might impact the supply of meat over Christmas.
The BVA’s senior vice-president, James Russell, said the shortage of vets could also affect domestic animals. “If you are thinking, we should be having a puppy or a kitten or whatever, then part of the due diligence, really, of thinking ‘how am I going to look after that animal right through its life?’ would be to think, where will I access veterinary care for this animal?
“We would encourage people to check in with their local vets to find out: are they taking on clients at the moment? What happens out of hours?” he said. “Those sorts of questions, to make sure they’re actually in a position to fulfil their obligation of being able to find veterinary care for those animals when they need it.”
The warnings come amid unprecedented demands on vets in the wake of Brexit. All exporters of meat and fish to the EU are required to get vets or veterinary officers to certify food for entry into Europe.
Earlier this year exports of some fish from Scotland were halted because Brexit rules required every box of seafood to be inspected and signed off as healthy by vets before being placed on a truck for Dover. Russell said the new certification process was consuming vast amounts of vets’ time. “From 1 January to the end of September, our professional spent 210 years’ worth of time completing export health certificates,” he said.
More than 3.2m UK households have brought a pet home since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest report from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), a trade body representing the pet food industry.
Russell said part of the problem was that so many of the vets working in the UK were from the EU, particularly those working in abattoirs. “We’re seeing much fewer of those coming into the country. Both a combination of Brexit and Covid,” he added.
On Wednesday a senior government official told the public accounts committee that the UK had built up sufficient numbers of vet and veterinary officials to conduct the checks on food and animals by offering free training to those interested in doing the work.
However, the committee’s chair, the Labour MP Meg Hillier, questioned whether the work with exporters was diverting vets from “dealing with cats and dogs or sheep” and “all their private practice”.