The high rate of suicide in the veterinary profession has been emphasised this week as well-known vet, Pete Wedderburn, urged the public to “be kind to your vet”.

Globally, the suicide rate among vets is about four times that of the general population.

Speaking on the RTÉ show, Claire Byrne Live, he said that there tends to be a nostalgic view of what it is like to be a vet.

“Vets become vets because they love working with animals. It is often an ambition that people have when they are very young. I decided to become a vet when I was just five years old,” he said.

But the hard truth, he said, is that it is a tough life, that is stressful on a number of levels – emotionally, financially and intellectually – and is a difficult profession in which to strike a work-life balance

“Stress levels are high and suicide rates are high, please be kind to your vet,” he said.

“It can be very upsetting for people when animals are ill, or when animals die. And sometimes vets are the target of redirected anger and grief and for vets who are sensitive – and many vets are – that can be an extra stress that can push people too far sometimes.”

Suicide bereavement

The Bray-based vet and journalist, who has been in the profession for 30 years, spoke of his personal experience of suicide bereavement; this included the death of his best friend from college, who died aged in his 30s.

“On average, I have lost a friend every five years to suicide, including my best friend from college. I was a best man at his wedding, and very, very sadly when he was in his mid-30s, he took his own life.”

He said the high rate of suicide among vets is well known within the profession and has been for decades.

“In fact, James Herriot who wrote All Creatures Great and Small, wrote those books as he was recovering from being hospitalised for clinical depression.

“That wasn’t publicised at the time because back then, in the 60s, it wasn’t done to talk about mental health in that specific way.”

He said it is important for vets to be able to cope with the challenging situations that they are faced with.

“You could find yourself walking out of a consult and bursting into tears. Now, the public don’t see that because it is not professional to be so emotionally involved but when you are witnessing the absolute dreadful grief that people are going through, then it is very hard to not feel that yourself and you need to find ways of dealing with that.”


Mental-health support is available for vets and vet nurses from the Irish Veterinary Benevolent Fund (IVBF). Included in its objectivers are:

  • To promote positive mental health;
  • To provide support to veterinary professionals at times of need;
  • To provide crisis response at times of extreme stress.

The IVBF can be contacted by: calling 1800 145 145; and for more information, click here