A proposal to modernize the Veterinarians Act is raising alarm bells across the province among pet owners and animal care professionals alike.
In a media release issued on April 14, 2023, the Ontario Animal Owners Association said they believe that proposed “amendments to the Act will have deleterious effects on the ability of pet owners in Ontario to access and utilize non-veterinarians who have been providing allied animal health care services for over two decades.”
“The proposed changes, in their current wording, would prevent anyone that isn’t a veterinarian from doing anything health related with animals,” noted Stella Barnett, owner of Huntsville canine rehabilitation Paws in Motion. “On a personal level, this means I would no longer be able to practice as a canine rehabilitation professional which is part of my livelihood.”
Barett, a registered physiotherapist with post-graduate training in canine rehabilitation, said she has worked hard to build her business over the past ten years and gain the respect of local veterinarians. She works with dogs of all ages and sizes with conditions ranging from sprains and strains to care after fractures and orthopedic surgeries, as well as dogs with neurological conditions.
“The proposed changes mean I would lose the right to do this independently. I would have to work in a veterinary clinic only performing therapies specifically delegated by a veterinarian. But a veterinarian cannot delegate what they are not trained in, and most are not trained in rehabilitation. Human physiotherapists work independently from physicians, utilizing treatment techniques and rehabilitative exercises that physicians are not trained in, there is no reason why it should be any different for animals.”
She said proposed changes to the Act would mean that animals could lose access to skilled manual therapy treatments, neurological rehabilitation, and individualized rehabilitative exercise programs—services veterinarians don’t tend to offer and are not trained for. She said care providers such as chiropractors and massage therapists would also be affected.
Bracebridge resident Heather Gibson, who has used Barett’s and other non-veterinarian services in the past, said she is a huge supporter of vets but doesn’t think they should be the only animal care providers. She said she would be in agreement with regulating the industry, rather than just giving veterinarians a monopoly on animal care.
Gibson said she likes the ability to get a second opinion and look at different care options. She used surgery as an example, which can be hugely expensive. “I was prepared to do surgery if it came to that but as it turned out it did not,” she said of one of her dogs. “I’m glad to have had Stella’s input on it. I’m glad to be able to speak to somebody who is not a surgeon because, frankly, surgeons do tend to like to do surgeries.”
If the proposed amendments go through, animal care will become even more expensive said Barett. She said if practitioners are only able to practice within a veterinary clinic, under the employ of veterinarians, or the corporation that owns the clinic, it is likely to be more costly to receive the same level of care that is currently available independently.
“This is equivalent to going to your family physician for a massage, a chiropractic adjustment, or a specialized exercise programme, and I think we all can see that isn’t a good idea! We are constantly seeing in the media stories of the stresses on our veterinary care system—the critical shortage of veterinarians and how they are not able to meet current demands. The proposed changes to the Act would only compound the stresses being placed on veterinarians, rather than exploring how non-veterinarian healthcare professionals can help reduce the burden on our veterinarians.”
Doppler reached out to the Province for a comment on the proposed changes. Connie Osborne with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) stated that the Ministry understands the importance of access to care for animals. “That is why the government is moving forward on a number of measures to increase access to care including adding additional veterinary school placements through a new partnership between University of Guelph and Lakehead University, launching a new Veterinary Incentive program and reviewing the Veterinarians Act.
“As part of the review, we are consulting through a discussion paper that explores a number of measures including expanding the role of veterinary technicians. The intent of the proposal in the discussion paper is to expand access to care, not restrict professionals who are currently practicing. We appreciate hearing about these concerns and now is the opportunity to provide input into the discussion paper that outlines the proposed changes to the Veterinarians Act,” added Osborne.
“The discussion paper under consultation acknowledges that some of the proposals are technical and would require future regulatory changes to bring the policy proposals into full effect. A future regulatory proposal could explore which authorized activities involving animal care could be performed by non-veterinarians and under what conditions. At that time, there would be consultation on a more detailed regulatory proposal about these potential rules.”
She said all comments will be reviewed and considered as part of the policy development process. “Submissions with specific examples and that clearly describe any concerns are the most helpful. Ministry staff review every comment that is submitted.”
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