Majority Of Veterinarians Report Widespread Moral Distress: Study

Some disturbing results have emerged from a recent study focusing on the emotional conflicts and stress experienced by veterinarians…

Study overview

The study surveyed 889 veterinarians in North America about how they deal and cope with ethical conflicts and moral standards with pet owners and caring for the animals.

Overview of results

-69 percent of respondents had moderate to severe amounts of distress of not being able to provide care they thought was appropriate to an animal.

-Over 70 percent of respondents felt that the obstacles they faced that prevented them from providing appropriate care caused them or their staff moderate to severe distress.

-79 percent of participants report being asked to provide care that they consider futile.

-More than 70 percent of participants reported no training in conflict resolution or self‐care.

Ongoing stress may be linked to veterinarian suicide rate

According to Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, the study’s senior author and a bioethicist at Harvard Medical School, there’s a connection with the findings and suicide rates for veterinarians.


“My assumption is that the findings from our survey are definitely part of, or even the majority of, the reason why veterinarians have higher-than-average suicide rates.”

silver tabby cat

64 percent of vets and their staff felt moderate to severe stress after getting inappropriate requests from owners to euthanize their pets.


“We are in the really unenviable, and really difficult, position of caring for patients maybe for their entire lives, developing our own relationships with those animals — and then being asked to kill them.”

-Dr. Lisa Moses, veterinarian at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Medical Center and bioethicist at Harvard Medical School


Journal reference:  Moses, L., Malowney, M. & Boyd, J.W.  Ethical conflict and moral distress in veterinary practice: A survey of North American veterinarians, Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine, 15 October 2018.

Overview source



  1. Great article! I can relate to this, I’m not a vet but I work in animal advocacy and I’ve taken in a few of those healthy animals from our vet, that have been dropped off to be euthanized and our dear vet just could not do it. In our community outreach we work with animal “owners” to help them understand a more compassionate way to care for their animals, i.e., not chaining them, providing them with flea & heartworm preventatives, etc. Some individuals love better understanding their dogs needs and others just don’t care at all. Sometimes I feel so deflated at the end of the day but I try to focus on the owners that evolve and the dogs we do help and try not to dwell on those we cannot help. Thanks for all your good work!!

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