OMICRON OUTBREAK: Animal Hospital Closed, Emergency Care for Rare Pets Over Holidays

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The Omicron variant has crippled Ottawa’s emergency veterinary services, increasing the likelihood that pets will need to be taken to Montreal or Toronto for urgent care during the holidays.

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An executive at Alta Vista Animal Hospital, the city’s largest 24-hour operation, said isolation rules for positive COVID cases had severely affected staff of 160, forcing the emergency care closes Thursday at 6 p.m.

“We’ve never had to close the hospital in 70 years,” said Julie Dwyer, regional director of referral and emergency hospitals for Alta Vista parent company VCA.

“Omicron has basically crippled the hospital and that’s mainly because of the isolation.”

She said there were fewer than 10 actual positive cases among staff, but – because they work in close proximity when handling animals – up to a third of staff have been forced into contact isolation , in accordance with Ottawa Public Health guidelines.

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The greatly reduced numbers meant that Alta Vista did not believe it could safely remain open. (It will remain partially open to fill prescriptions and sell prescription pet food.)

Alta Vista’s closure shifted the burden to the city’s other two 24-hour emergency hospitals.

The Ottawa Veterinary Hospital on Boyd Avenue – much smaller than Alta Vista – is still open 24 hours a day, but expects to be overwhelmed with cases and may already be close to capacity.

“Please note that we are the only emergency hospital open in the Ottawa area during the holiday season and as a result we will be handling a high volume of cases,” a phone message from Boyd’s facility said. callers Friday. “We ask for your patience and understanding as we do our best to help you and your pet.”

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The third facility, Animal Emergency & Specialty Hospital on Lola Street, is also struggling to stay open over the holidays. A spokesperson said they were doing their best to deal with only the most urgent cases.

“At this time, we have reduced our capacity due to staffing shortages and potential exposure to COVID-19,” customer service manager Nicole Rainville wrote.

“What this means in practice is that we currently only have the capacity to accommodate patients who come to us with vital emergencies. So we’re not necessarily closed, we’re just trying to balance the capacity of our hospital with the emergency cases we receive. »

Dwyer said she’s confident Ottawa pet owners will eventually drive out of town over the holiday season. “I think it will absolutely happen. I don’t see any way around this.

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It’s usually the busiest time of year in Alta Vista, with 70 or 80 cases per day and up to 40 to 50 animals on IVs, she said.

This is due to two factors: most regular veterinary practices are temporarily closed; and pets encounter many gastro/poison problems due to the abundance of unusual foods and potentially poisonous plants during the Christmas season.

Dwyer suggested pet owners call ahead before visiting out-of-town clinics. She also reminded owners to be very careful about what pets eat at this time of year. Minor ailments, she added, can probably wait for regular veterinary care to return and she pointed to tele-vet services that could help in a pinch.

The explosion in the pet population during the 20-month pandemic has also exacerbated the situation, with numbers as high as 40%.

She says the “best-case scenario” is that Alta Vista could be partially reopened by the middle of next week as staff emerge from staggered-day isolation. However, she warned that things are “very fluid” at the moment.

Even during the nearly two years of the pandemic and major events like the 1998 ice storm, Alta Vista on Bank Street South still found a way to stay open.

“It’s really difficult for a lot of our employees. We’ve never been there.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email [email protected]

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

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