Canadian Veterinarians Grapple with Severe Burnout and Mental Health Challenges

by Ella

Veterinarians across Canada are facing extreme burnout and declining mental health due to a combination of staff shortages, a surge in animal patients, and the constant stress associated with their profession.


Veterinarian Neil Pothier, who has been in the field since 1985 and runs an animal hospital in Digby, N.S., expressed the growing concerns within the veterinary community. While animal care has always been challenging, many are now contemplating quitting due to the increased workload, especially in rural areas with 24-hour emergency care responsibilities. This relentless stress and exhaustion are contributing to severe mental health issues, with a concerning rise in suicide rates among veterinarians.


Survey data from 2020 indicated that veterinarians in Canada were more likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to the general population. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 26.2% of surveyed veterinarians had considered suicide within the past 12 months, compared to 2.5% of Canadians surveyed by Statistics Canada in 2022.


Pothier highlighted that the pet population surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an explosion of work for veterinarians. For example, his patient roster increased by 40% in the two years following the pandemic’s onset. The situation worsened when two veterinarians in a neighboring area had to shut down their animal hospital due to burnout, leaving Pothier to cope with additional demand.


Veterinarians across Canada have reported higher stress levels, causing some to leave the profession or take medical leave due to burnout and fatigue. The tragic suicide of a veterinarian in northern New Brunswick further highlighted the crisis within the veterinary community. The tight-knit nature of the profession intensifies the impact of such losses.

Burnout, moral dilemmas linked to financial constraints on clients, and the emotional weight of euthanizing animals create a heavy burden on veterinary staff. Additionally, staffing shortages in the industry have contributed to the growing mental health crisis.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s President, Trevor Lawson, emphasized that end-of-life care for animals is emotionally taxing for veterinary staff who form strong bonds with pets and their owners. A financial crisis, when clients cannot afford treatment, further adds to the moral crisis within the profession.

Jan Robinson, the Registrar and CEO of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, explained that the veterinary sector is facing significant challenges from various angles. Veterinary clinics struggle to hire workers, emergency animal hospitals are understaffed, and long wait times for animal care are concerning to the public.

In other Canadian provinces, staffing shortages have created a severe veterinarian deficit. The strain of the job has led to shifts in how veterinarians choose to work. Many now prioritize work-life balance and opt for positions that allow them to limit their hours.

Despite nearing retirement age, Neil Pothier finds himself working as many hours, or more, than ever before. He expressed his desire to slow down but notes that the lack of new professionals entering the field leaves him and his colleagues holding the line until change occurs. The critical shortage of veterinarians and the overwhelming workload continue to impact the mental health of veterinary professionals across Canada.


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