This is an image of a vet who is holding the head of adog, taken from a sideways perspective it shows the love between the vet and the animals that they are entrusted to care for
More than a third of vets have been reported to be both unsure of their future in the sector or are planning to leave it altogether, according to a survey posted by The British Voice Association. Image credit, Adobe Stock

“My dog would have survived if the vets would have agreed to see her earlier,” says Lisa Dove from Selston in Nottinghamshire.

Lisa, 52, faced this heart-wrenching reality when she realised, that despite her best efforts, her three-year-old dog, Autumn, would not be receiving care from a vet until it was too late.

Unfortunately, experiences like Lisa’s are becoming all too common in the UK, where a critical shortage of vets due to factors such as burnout, unjust pay, COVID and Brexit are causing a critical shortage of veterinarians in the field.

A PDSA pet hospital in Wolverhampton told BBC reporters that, “Vets are “the backbone” in protecting animal health and welfare,” adding how, “the shortage is putting industry standards at risk.”

But for Lisa, the veterinary shortage in the UK runs much deeper than the industry’s quality of practise.

“By the time somebody finally agreed to help her, she’d died in the back of the car”

She first noticed that Afghan showdog, Autumn, was unwell after they couldn’t get her to eat or drink in the early hours of the morning. Immediately, she sought medical care.

“I tried to get her to the vet at 9am and I couldn’t get through. When I finally did, they just didn’t seem bothered at all,” recalls Lisa, who was told by the receptionist that her dog was no longer registered with that practice, which was a computer error on the part of the veterinary team, and that it would be an upfront £250 emergency visit fee just to get seen.

“I of course was willing to pay this,” says Lisa, “the problem isn’t the money. It is that the vets code of practice states that they will provide first aid and pain relief to an animal in need. They should have seen that my dog was in distress and pain, and treated her first. Everything else could have come after.

They wanted to secure a payment before delivering life saving, time critical treatment.”

Lisa tried to contact another local practice: “They told me that they couldn’t take her because they didn’t have the room, they were all busy.”

Then, an independent vet: “They told me that they aren’t taking on any new patients at the moment.

“I didn’t want to be a new patient, I just wanted my dog treated, I wanted help.”

At that point, Autumn’s health had deteriorated so rapidly that she passed away before being able to get treatment.

“I eventually had to ring the vets back in hysterics because my dog had collapsed,” says Lisa, “but it took so long for the vets to get back to me to say they’d treat her that she died in the car on the way there.”

This photograph shows an Afghan breed of dog, and shows a closeup of the dog looking into the camera head on. Showing a visual to the current UK vet shortage
Autumn was set to have travelled to Sweden in 2025 as part of a breeding programme with another award winning Afghan. Image credit, Lisa Dove

This UK shortage isn’t just affecting those struggling to seek medical treatment for their pets. It is also having a direct impact on the veterinary staff within the practice.

Nicolas Bangay, 51, has been working in the veterinary practice for over 20 years, and although stationed in South Africa, Bangay spent a year practising in the UK during the pandemic.

“We had considerable waiting lists because of COVID in our branch, and routine things like pet vaccinations we’re regularly missed. So I was faced with trying to get all of those things back on track,” explains Bangay when describing the conditions he faced when joining a large UK-based veterinary firm.

“It was tiring, and it was hard to work to deal with the rate of sick pets that needed to be seen as soon as possible.

“We were literally fighting fires just trying to fit people where and when we could, it was most definitely a very stressful situation.”

Bangay also says he believes, “vets are tired, and they are underpaid, and because of this, they are changing professions after about eight years of practice.

“This is very sad because people are leaving and that just adds a whole new level of stress for other vets at the moment.”

‘we just can’t keep up because pet ownership has doubled’

Brexit has led to a reduction in the number of European vets practising in the UK.

“Vets that were originally able to just come into the UK to work, now require visas to get into the UK.

“For a lot of people the whole application time, waiting for those visas to come through is frightening,” says Bangay, when explaining how his own visa took five months to come through.

COVID has also had a major effect on this issue, according to some.

“Suddenly we can’t keep up because pet ownership has doubled,” says one Newcastle vet, 29, who has spent seven years working in the field.

“The shortage has also affected all of our stress and workload,” she adds.

This image shows a cat being treated on the veterinary table, with both the vet and the owner watching. Showing a visual to the current vet shortage
Some veterinary clinics have started to offer four day working weeks to their staff as a measure to help address the burnout among professionals in the field. Image credit, Adobe Stock

“I noticed that in my small animal job, the vets we were recruiting were seeming to get progressively younger, with less experience.”

She explains how the increase in hiring younger vets is leading to a rise in burnout from more experienced vets left to train the graduates, along with managing their own day-to-day routines.

“I’ve suffered burnout myself, which is actually why I left my last practice.”

Along with unpaid overtime and unfair pay rates, this is causing a lot of frustration for the quality of care within the veterinary field.

“I think a lot of people have left the profession as well because of salary reasons.”

For pet owners, this shortage translates to longer waiting times, difficulty in securing appointments, and in the worst cases, like Lisa’s, animals not getting treated in time.

“They told me they couldn’t take my dog in because all the vets were busy”

“My dog would have survived if the vets would have agreed to see her earlier, but now we’ll never know,” says Lisa, “It was just a horrendous experience, she was only three years old.”

Increasing training for students, providing better support for current vets and improving working conditions are all factors that both veterinary professionals think are crucial steps in improving the current shortage faced in the UK.

“I think vets should be offered psychology training as part of the course, I think the best way to address the shortage is to offer better preparation to those coming into the field,” says Bangay.

“I think for me, vets have started to lose the empathy they always had for people. And if vets don’t have their empathy and understanding, then what do they really have left?”