The veterinary sector is facing a “recruitment crisis” due to a growth in demand for services from vets and “an acute talent shortage” that is expected to continue in 2022.

That’s according to advisory firm HLB Sheehan Quinn, which has released findings from its fifth annual Veterinary Practice Survey.

The firm, founded in 1976, is a leading advisory firm to the veterinary sector.

The growth in demand that will be partially responsible for this recruitment issue is driven by an increase in pet ownership during the Covid-19 pandemic, the firm says.

The survey, conducted between November 2021 and January 2022, found that 27% of practices reported dealing with pet owners who are experiencing behavioural issues due to poor socialisation, as their owners return to the workplace.

With demand failing to decrease, 61% of practices responding to the survey highlighted staff resources as their major challenge for 2022, while 69% plan on a recruitment push this year to cope.

To make matters more complex, there is an expected exit of senior veterinary practice owners, with 40% of existing veterinary practice owners already considering selling up.

More than 47% of the sector’s employees surveyed are over the age of 51, with 60% of practice owners having not currently identified a succession partner.

The report also highlights the increase in activity of corporate acquisitions in the sector, with 49% of respondents aware of recent acquisitions in their area.

The entry of corporate entities into the sector was a new development in 2019, with more than 30 acquisitions announced since then.

While some practitioners surveyed were concerned about this change, the 2022 survey seems to indicate that sentiment is improving, with 32% finding the entry of corporate entities to the market to be a positive, as opposed to 18% in last year’s survey.

The report also indicates changes in expectations for employees within the sector, with 68% of respondents wanting a better work life balance.

In 2019, 79% sought a salary increase, while this number has declined to 48% this year.

In the survey, 32% of vets expressed their belief that the greatest opportunity in the sector was the growth of small animal practice.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Mark Butler, managing partner of HLB Sheehan Quinn, commented: “We have found that growing demand for veterinary services is creating opportunities for ambitious practice owners, but long hours and heavy workloads continue to be a heavy burden on many vets, resulting in burnout.

“It is also notable that acute staff shortages are likely to result in further consolidation this year as ambitious practices look to mergers and acquisitions as a means to increase capacity and access additional resources.” Butler added.