The South Island’s only 24-hour emergency hospital for pets is breaking ground on a major expansion in Saanich that staff say will be a "game-changer" for care in B.C. and the Pacific Northwest.

The team at VCA Canada’s Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital held a ground-breaking ceremony Thursday to celebrate the new 20,000-square-foot facility that will replace its current undersized building.

"The demand for specialty [care] in Victoria, particularly, and on the island is high," says VCA Canada President Darryl Verbeerk. "We need to meet that demand head on by building the right facility for it."

The $15-million investment will expand services. The veterinary hospital’s medical director says more room will allow for more full-time specialists, like critical care, an expansion of diagnostic tools and a cancer care centre.

"At one point, it was: ‘Well, we love the dog but it’s a dog.’ And people would make those hard decisions sooner – whereas now they’re: ‘No. I want this dog. I want to do what you can do," says Dr. Blair Gurney.

The cancer centre will offer a range of oncology treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy. The latter includes a treatment option that the team says will be new to B.C. and the Pacific Northwest.

"A state of the art technique that uses advances in software in patient positioning and imaging to be able to deliver a full course of radiation therapy in a very short amount of time," says veterinary oncologist, Dr. Genevieve Hammond.

It’s expected the changes will keep pet owners closer to home.

Construction is expected to last roughly 18 months.