Video: The Veterinarian Suicide Crisis

The numbers

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control sounded the alarm on a disturbing trend in the veterinary profession.

They had analyzed the death records of 11,620 veterinarians from 1979-2015. 398 were the result of suicide.

Compared to the general population, male veterinarians are 2.2 times more likely to die by suicide. That number jumps to 3.5 among female veterinarians.​1​

The problem isn’t exclusive to the United States. In some countries, veterinarians are up to 4 times more at risk for suicide than the general population.​2​

In Australia, 1 veterinarian is lost to suicide every 12 weeks.​3​

A 2014 survey of 11,627 U.S. veterinarians found:

  • 9% were experiencing severe psychological distress
  • 31% had experience depressive episodes
  • 17% had contemplated suicide since leaving vet school

Which means 1 in 6 veterinarians has contemplated suicide.

Moreover, 157 of respondents had attempted suicide.​4​

Why would people who “get to play with animals every day for a job” want to take their lives?

Causes of suicidal ideation in veterinarians

1. Difficult client interactions

  • Accusations of not caring and “only being in it for the money”​5​
  • Getting the blame for not being able to save a pet when owners delay care and refuse diagnostics

2. Online personal attacks

  • Scathing, one-sided reviews about cost of treatment, wait times, accusing vets of taking advantage of pet owners, and worse
  • Social media hate campaigns against individual vets, inciting mass public attacks and even death threats

3. Compassion Fatigue

  • Dealing with the suffering and distress of pets and pet owners on a daily basis​6​
  • Traumatic stress is passed onto the vet—it’s called “Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder”​7​ and symptoms mimic PTSD

4. Depression & Anxiety

  • Perceiving the inability to save all patients as a personal failure​8,9​
  • Fear of angering clients and receiving negative online reviews

5. Crippling student debt

  • The average veterinary student debt is $183,000​10​—with 20% over $200,000, and some as high as $500,000​11​
  • Veterinarians don’t qualify for student loan forgiveness programs

6. COVID-19 pandemic

  • Pet ownership increased 70% during the 2020 lockdowns, causing a surge in demand for veterinary services and staffing shortages​12​
  • Protocols to keep everyone safe increase staff workload, and therefore wait times, angering clients
  • Staff is stretched thin and morale at an all-time low due to stress, exhaustion, frequent abuse from clients, and increased rates of euthanasia

7. Overwork and burnout

  • Animals don’t get sick on a schedule and the shortage of vets means working overtime
  • Emergencies often mean skipping meals and staying hours past closing, creating poor work-life balance

8. Access to euthanasia drugs

  • A large part of veterinary work is ending suffering via euthanasia​13​
  • In moments of distress, access to life-ending drugs makes it easier for vets to take their own lives​8​

What can we do to help our vets?

1. Be patient

  • Pets don’t always cooperate with treatment or an emergency may have come in
  • Wait times come from vets providing the best possible care to ALL patients
  • Take wait times into account when scheduling your appointment

2. Don’t take money problems out on vets

  • Just to be able to open its doors to you, vet hospitals have to pay rent, utilities, insurance, wages, and more
  • They also have to pre-stock all the medications and supplies your pet might need when you come in
  • Accusing a vet of not caring because you don’t like the cost of treatment is distressing and unfair
  • Taking your frustrations out on staff whose job it is to take your payment is never OK

3. Don’t wait till it becomes an emergency

  • Call the vet’s office as soon as you notice something is wrong
  • Don’t wait till it becomes an irreversible tragedy or more costly emergency

4. Get pet health insurance (or an emergency protection plan)

  • Sign up for pet health insurance as soon as possible to avoid a situation where you won’t be able to pay for your pet’s care
  • If insurance isn’t an option due to your pet’s history or age, look into a pet emergency protection plan

5. Say “Thank you”

  • Your pet wouldn’t be able to get the care it needs without the joint effort of a whole team of people
  • Don’t forget to thank everyone who makes it possible for your pet to receive care:
    • The receptionist who checked you in and out
    • The kennel worker who mopped up after your pet
    • The assistant who brought your pet back to you
    • The vet tech who answered your questions
    • And the vet who examined and treated your pet

6. Be kind

  • If a mistake has been made, remember that it’s never intentional – vets are human (just like you)
  • They feel bad enough without you shaming or berating them

7. Raise complaints privately

  • If you have a problem with your visit or bill, ask to speak to the practice manager in private
  • Posting a negative review online is hurtful to everyone who worked hard to care for your pet

Due to high stress and frequent abuse from clients, veterinary workers are leaving the industry in droves.

4 out of 10 veterinarians are actively considering leaving the profession.​14​

Half of vet techs burn out in their first 5 years; 35% burn out altogether.​12​

And 59% of veterinarians wouldn’t recommend their own profession to friends and family.​15​

Many pets already aren’t getting the care they need. If we don’t start changing the way we treat our vets, they may no longer be there the next time our pets need them.

After all, there are many, much more glamorous and lucrative careers that don’t involve being bitten, scratched, peed on, pooped on, bled on, and vomited on every day.

Thanks for watching (or reading). And remember

Vets are people too


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . New Study Finds Higher than Expected Number of Suicide Deaths among U.S. Veterinarians. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 18, 2018. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  2. Zimlich R. Study looks at factors in high veterinary suicide rate in U.K. DVM360. Published April 30, 2010. Accessed October 30, 2021.
  3. McPherson E. Mental health crisis: Why the suicide rate for veterinarians is so high. 9News. Published March 21, 2021. Accessed October 30, 2120.
  4. Nett RJ, Witte TK, Holzbauer SM, et al. Risk factors for suicide, attitudes toward mental illness, and practice-related stressors among US veterinarians. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published October 15, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2021.
  5. Fedrezzi N. Why Are So Many Veterinarians in America Being Pushed to the Point of Suicide? Noëlle Floyd. Published August 18, 2020. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  6. AVMA . Work and compassion fatigue. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published October 31, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  7. Hanrahan C, Sabo BM, Robb P. Secondary traumatic stress and veterinarians: Human–animal bonds as psychosocial determinants of health. Traumatology. Published online March 2018:73-82. doi:10.1037/trm0000135
  8. Stoewen DL. Suicide in veterinary medicine: Let’s talk about it (Access to and knowledge of means). PubMed Central. Published September 2015. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  9. Stoewen DL. Suicide in veterinary medicine: Let’s talk about it (Personality factors). PubMed Central. Published September 2015. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  10. Bartlett, DVM S. Veterinary Debt Initiative Evolves Efforts on How to Address Educational Debt. Kansas City Veterinary Medical Association. Published May 1, 2019. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  11. Lau E. Still broken, five years after Fix the Debt veterinary summit. VIN New Service. Published July 7, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  12. Snyder A. Covid-19 pandemic magnifies workforce crisis in veterinary field. CNN. Published July 20, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  13. Stoewen DL. Suicide in veterinary medicine: Let’s talk about it (Attitudes toward death and euthanasia). PubMed Central. Published September 2015. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  14. Zak I. Why are veterinarians unhappy? DVM360. Published June 15, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2021.
  15. Lau E. Survey: Majority of veterinarians don’t recommend the profession. VIN News Service. Published February 6, 2018. Accessed October 31, 2021.

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