Some veterinary practices that are struggling to obtain the medication have been left with no choice but to book in some pets as a priority while delaying appointments for others.
One practice has written to owners to inform them cats and dogs due to receive their annual booster jabs will have to wait several months so the clinic can prioritise kittens and puppies, which are most at risk of falling seriously ill.
Wylie Vets, which has clinics in London and Essex, told owners: “The veterinary profession is facing a national shortage of vaccines across all companies. This shortage affects both dog and cat vaccines.”
As a result, the practice has “had to make the necessary decision to prioritise puppies, kittens and first year vaccine boosters”.
Appointments for older pets due their annual boosters will be delayed by three months, the practice said.
“This is safe to do [and is] in line with the manufacturers’ recommended guidelines,” it added.
Vaccinations protect puppies from serious illnesses such as parvovirus and canine distemper virus, which can lead to infections with high mortality rates.
Jabs also safeguard kittens against conditions including feline infectious enteritis, a severe and often fatal gut infection, and feline herpes virus, a major cause of upper respiratory disease.
After having their initial vaccinations, cats and dogs require regular booster injections throughout their lives to maintain their immunity.
Booster jabs are typically administered every 12 months, though it is generally considered safe to leave a gap of up to 15 months.
The delay is likely to raise questions for owners as to whether they could be liable for a large vet’s bill if they are not able to have their pet vaccinated as required by their insurance policy and the animal falls ill as a result.
Two insurance providers, PetPlan and Animal Friends, were contacted. PetPlan did not respond while Animal Friends declined to comment.
Vets have said they do not know how long the shortage will last.
The problem is compounded by the sharp rise in pet ownership during the pandemic – some 3.2 million households acquired a pet between March 2020 and March 2021, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association.
At the same time the UK is losing vets. Many European veterinarians have left the UK following Brexit, while burnout is causing others to quit.
Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “We have been hearing anecdotally from members about a shortage of certain pet vaccines, especially cat vaccines.
“We expect this is due to a number of issues, including an increase in pet ownership during the pandemic leading to an increase in demand.
“Vets are working with vaccine suppliers to manage the needs of their clients and may need to prioritise allocations. Your vet may be in contact if delays are likely, but we’d like to emphasise that a short-term delay shouldn’t be cause for concern.”