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Silent Suffering: The High Rate of Suicide in Veterinarians

High stressors in veterinary medicine often have fatal consequences.

Key points

  • A study reports about 80% of veterinarians suffer from clinical depression at some point.
  • Also, nearly 50% report feeling unhappy in their careers.
  • Veterinarians are subjected to a unique set of emotional stressors, such as euthanasia.
12019 / Pixabay
Source: 12019 / Pixabay

The veterinary profession, often lauded for its compassion and dedication to the well-being of animals, harbors a profoundly unsettling and lesser-known problem: An alarmingly high rate of suicide among its practitioners.

Despite their tireless commitment to animals' health and happiness, veterinarians struggle with a heavy emotional burden that can culminate in tragic outcomes. There are multifaceted factors contributing to the elevated risk of suicide in veterinarians, such as the unique stressors they encounter. There are potential solutions to address this critical issue.

Disturbing Statistics

It is a grim reality that veterinarians face a significantly higher risk of suicide compared to the general population and even other healthcare professionals. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in 2019, veterinarians in the United States are three to five times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

Approximately 80 percent of all veterinarians suffer from clinical depression at some point, and about 50 percent report feeling unhappy in their careers. These statistics paint a bleak picture that calls for a profound examination of the underlying factors fueling this troubling trend.

Unique Stressors in the Veterinary Profession

Various stressors are unique to veterinary medicine that make vets more vulnerable. These include the emotional toll, debt and financial pressures, long work hours, high expectations and perfectionism, cyberbullying, and compassion fatigue.

Veterinarians are subjected to a unique set of emotional stressors due to their daily interactions with animals in distress and pet owners grappling with the agony of seeing their beloved companions suffer.


Euthanasia, in particular, can be a heart-wrenching responsibility, as veterinarians often have to make difficult decisions about ending an animal's life, navigating the fine line between compassion and suffering. This continuous exposure to pain and suffering can gradually erode their mental well-being.

Large School Debt

The cost of veterinary education can be staggering, leaving many recent graduates buried under a mountain of student loan debt. This financial burden can contribute to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression, making it difficult for them to manage their personal and professional lives effectively.

The daunting prospect of repaying loans can become a relentless source of anxiety, overshadowing their passion for animal care. In addition, veterinarians frequently work long and irregular hours, especially in emergency and critical care settings where they are often on call.


This demanding schedule can lead to burnout, impairing their ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance and engage in activities that recharge their spirits.

The veterinary profession imposes high standards on its practitioners, who are responsible for diagnosing and treating animals precisely. The fear of making a mistake or failing to provide optimal care can foster feelings of inadequacy and perfectionism, which can be detrimental to their mental health.

Veterinarians enter the profession to save animals, and yet they cannot always prevent illness or death. This perpetual pursuit of perfection can create a sense of futility and hopelessness.


The rise of online rating programs like Yelp and Google may further lower their sense of self-worth. When clients are unhappy with a vet (even if they have tried their best), the vet becomes vulnerable to cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying can have significant emotional and psychological effects on veterinarians. Receiving hurtful or derogatory messages and poor ratings (or death threats) online can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress. Veterinarians may feel overwhelmed by the constant negativity.

Cyberbullying can damage a veterinarian's professional reputation. False or misleading information can spread quickly, making it challenging to maintain trust with clients and colleagues and difficult to trust their judgment. Veterinarians may feel further isolated and unsupported when dealing with online harassment.

The fear of additional cyberbullying may deter them from seeking help or discussing their experiences with peers.

Emotional Exhaustion

Finally, veterinarians are also susceptible to compassion fatigue, a state of emotional exhaustion that results from prolonged exposure to the suffering of others, both animals and their human caregivers. Over time, this can manifest as a diminished capacity to empathize with the pain of those they serve, leading to a disconnect that further complicates their mental health challenges.

As stated, veterinarians enter the field to save animals and often cannot due to medical limitations or the financial restraints of the pet's human guardian. A vet must become very comfortable with ending lives through euthanasia and the combination of knowledge of how to administer euthanasia drugs. Along with access to lethal means and familiarity with ending lives, make a dangerous combination that may cause some veterinarians to seek suicide as a final act.

Barriers to Seeking Help

While the need for mental health support within the veterinary profession is evident, several formidable barriers prevent veterinarians from seeking the required assistance.

The stigma surrounding mental health issues persists in many professions, including veterinary medicine. Veterinarians may fear judgment or professional repercussions if they admit to struggling with their mental health.

This societal stigma contributes to a culture of silence and suffering.

Access to mental health resources tailored explicitly to veterinarians is limited in many regions. This scarcity of support can discourage individuals from seeking help and force them to grapple with their emotional turmoil in isolation.

The veterinary profession frequently contends with understaffing issues, more now than ever, making it challenging for veterinarians to take time off for self-care or seek therapy. This reluctance to step away from work only exacerbates their mental health challenges, perpetuating a vicious cycle of stress and exhaustion.

High client expectations and clients who attempt to haggle for the price of veterinary services contribute to these challenges.

There are also few to no discussions of self-care or mental health vulnerabilities in veterinary schools. Since mentors or peers do not normalize their experiences, veterinarians often perceive seeking mental health support as a sign of weakness, believing that they should be capable of managing the emotional demands of their profession independently. This misguided notion can prevent them from reaching out for help when they need it most.

Preventive Measures and Solutions

The first step in addressing the high rate of suicide among veterinarians is to raise awareness about the mental health challenges they face. Educational programs and workshops can play a pivotal role in reducing stigma and fostering open dialogues about mental well-being within the veterinary community and beyond.

Efforts should be made to provide easy access to mental health services tailored to the specific needs of veterinarians. Telehealth options can be particularly beneficial for those in remote areas or with demanding schedules, ensuring they can access support when necessary.

Initiatives that address the financial burden of veterinary education, such as loan forgiveness programs or scholarships, can alleviate some of the stress associated with student loan debt, giving veterinarians greater financial security and peace of mind.

Currently, the average salary for a veterinarian is $80,000, while many hold student loans of well over $200,000. Veterinarians often charge as little as possible for services to make them accessible to clients, but clients still haggle over the prices since we are often unaware of the back-end cost to the vet.

If more pet parents had health insurance, this would alleviate the financial stress for veterinarians.

Veterinary clinics and hospitals can significantly contribute to their staff's mental well-being by offering flexible work hours, encouraging time off, and cultivating a positive work environment that prioritizes the mental health of their employees. A veterinary social worker at the hospital is a rarity but a necessity since they can help support the mental health of clients and staff.

Finally, establishing peer support groups within the veterinary community can provide veterinarians with a safe and empathetic space to share their experiences, seek advice, and find emotional support from colleagues who understand their unique challenges.


The high rate of suicide among veterinarians is a harrowing crisis that demands immediate attention and collective action. While the veterinary profession is celebrated for its dedication to the welfare of animals, it is equally vital to acknowledge and address the profound emotional toll it exacts on its practitioners.

By raising awareness, reducing stigma, and implementing supportive measures that empower veterinarians to seek help when needed, we can work toward a future where veterinarians can personally and professionally thrive. This can ensure that they continue to provide the care and compassion animals deserve without sacrificing their well-being.

The silent suffering of veterinarians must be met with compassion, understanding, and effective solutions to prevent further tragedy.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7, dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


American Veterinary Medical Association. (1920). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. American Veterinary Medical Association.….

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