Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Ginette Lafreniere

Advisor Role


Second Advisor

Lea Caragata

Advisor Role



Mental health concerns are a significant problem in the veterinary community, and studies suggest that veterinarians working in Western countries are at higher risk of suicide compared to the general population and other healthcare professionals (Bartram et al., 2009; Bartram & Baldwin, 2010; Platt et al., 2012). Additionally, veterinary medicine is an occupation inundated with complex ethical and moral dilemmas. However, current studies are limited in their ability to contextualize the risk and contributing factors fully; therefore, they offer limited insight into effective preventative and support strategies. Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), eight companion animal veterinarians were interviewed about their experiences of moral distress and ethical dilemmas in veterinary practice. The research question guiding this inquiry was: What are the experiences of moral distress and ethical dilemmas among companion animal veterinarians practicing in Canada? Five key themes emerged. First, veterinarians identified the most distressing aspects of their work. Second, they identified the negative emotional repercussions of their work. Third, while some identified coping strategies to help mitigate the stress associated with their work, they also noted the challenges of implementing these strategies within the current veterinary practice structure. Fourth, veterinarians identified their motivations for continuing to practice veterinary medicine despite the mental health challenges it poses. Fifth, participants made various recommendations for change within veterinary medicine and the educational curriculum to help improve mental health outcomes among veterinarians. The themes identified in this study relate to the fee-for-service structure of veterinary medicine and how finances contribute to ethical dilemmas, moral distress, abusive interactions from clients, adversely impact animal welfare, and threaten the human-animal bond. In the existing model of care, veterinarians’ mental health is adversely impacted, and socioeconomically disadvantaged pet caregivers risk losing meaningful relationships with their animals. This study supports the need for a change in the structure of veterinary medicine and increased community funding to improve access to veterinary care. This research further underscores the importance of adopting an approach to healthcare which recognizes the interdependence of human and non-human health and well-being.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season