To Be or Not to Be: This is the question ‘Should it be a requirement for Animal Hospitals to provide After Hour Animal Emergency Care?

Veterinarians and animals are struggling – particularly those veterinarians and animals who practice and reside in rural locations like Cape Breton and Yarmouth. For both – this conundrum around after hour animal emergency care could be a life-or-death situation.

While this is typically not an issue for those veterinarians who live within 80 kms of a 24-hour emergency clinic, the requirement to provide 24/7 emergency care for rural veterinarians can be a real emotional and physical strain. The Nova Scotia SPCA does not believe it is reasonable to put the burden for so many on so few. This is also causing a strain between generations of veterinarians with many senior vets feeling ‘I did it – now it is your turn and you agreed to this’. But my question is ‘did they agree to this and if so, should we have asked them to agree to it?’ What if they agreed while in vet school but then years later they end up having to care for a child with significant needs, aging parents who can no longer care for themselves, or they find that 5 years into their vet career they have different physical abilities due to personal disease or illness? Do we still hold them to that standard? How are we judging them if they refuse to comply? Are they forced out of the industry? Is that helping animals? While we might not all agree that after hour emergency services should be required by all hospitals – I think we can all agree that this is a loaded quandary with no easy answers.

It is the SPCA’s belief that if you eradicate the need for after-hour emergency services, animals will be better served overall and in higher numbers as more veterinarians will be available to provide service during the day which is when the demand for services primarily exists. Pet owners will continue to have options for after-hours service, even if it is to drive a few hours to the nearest clinic offering after hour service, which is like what is expected in other provinces across Canada. As we all know, NS is the only province to tie the provision of emergency services to a distance boundary – Ironic given that NS is not considered a large province spatially. Further, in the very near future HRM will soon have 2 new 24-hour clinics entering the market.

While we agree removing the requirement for after hour emergency services would increase the pressure on the limited number of clinics open throughout the night, at that time demand is lower, and those clinics could charge higher fees to better compensate veterinarians who choose and who are willing to work through the night. Let the nature of supply and demand find the balance rather than potentially creating circumstances where veterinarians are required to provide service when their personal situation is not conducive to providing services throughout the night.

To support our veterinarians in Cape Breton, the Nova Scotia SPCA came up with a unique solution which we believe allows us to remain open and stay within the bylaws of the NSVMA. This was not done with the intension to be problematic but when we see that our veterinarians are struggling to meet the demand and find balance to protect their mental health, we made it a priority to help bring about positive change because we know that when you protect and support veterinarians you are protecting and supporting animals.

On a Bright Note, in the most recent missive received by the NSVMA it was highlighted that…

“A motion will be put forward at the upcoming NSVMA Annual General Meeting on October 21, 2023 to revise SC-12 of Annex A to the Bylaws, to remove the specific kilometer and time requirements that currently define the emergency services distance.”

EXCITING NEWS! However, for this bylaw to be amended the quorum would need to be met (81 members in attendance) at the meeting and 2/3 of the vote (approximately 55 members) must be in favour of the change. No small feat! But a vote to support this motion would give rural veterinarians and RVTs the flexibility they need to make personal choices that fit their needs!

The Nova Scotia SPCA is going to encourage all their staff who are members to attend this meeting so they can cast their vote! Please, if you have NSVMA members on your staff communicate to them how important it is for them to participate and vote.

For you to participate in the AGM you must be REGISTERED for the Meeting by SEPTEMBER 15, 2023


Become involved with the NSVMA Council:

To put your name forward for one of the open council positions you must contact Dr. Jane Corkum at by Friday, September 15 to let her know you would like your name to be placed on the ballot.