Pet owners should be taught realistic expectations about the costs of healthcare for animals as veterinarians bear the brunt of people’s “bill shock”, an inquiry has heard.
A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry examining workforce shortages in the veterinary industry has been told about a growing mental health crisis in the sector due to workload pressures and client abuse.
Garry Putland, whose 33-year-old veterinarian daughter Sophie Putland took her own life in 2021, said the industry had damning mental illness statistics that would be unacceptable in other healthcare professions.
Vets are four times more likely to die by suicide than the general population and on average a vet takes their own life every 12 weeks.
Putland said people expected animal healthcare to be similar to that for humans, which is free or subsidised through Medicare, and called for more education about how much it really costs to own a pet.
“The issue around bill shock is that people don’t understand that we don’t have a subsidy that supports the vet industry and what you are paying is the true cost of delivering the services,” he said.
“We need to set that expectation that when you buy a pet, it could be costly.
“So part of this is about how we get the industry to be much more open and transparent about that pricing, and then how do we get the expectation of clients to be much more realistic about the true cost of delivering the service.”
Putland started Sophie’s Legacy, an organisation aimed at making the vet industry safer and reducing customer abuse.
The organisation rolled out a national education campaign called We’re Only Human, which asks animal owners to take a pledge to be kind, respectful and understand the massive pressures affecting veterinary staff.
Putland urged the government to commit funding for preventive mental healthcare to ensure vet staff had sufficient support.
Caroline Winter, a journalist who started a podcast to spotlight dire mental health in the vet profession, said updated research was vital to understanding the true extent of the crisis in Australia.
But she said animal owners ultimately needed to understand the responsibilities of having a pet.
“It is very much up to individuals to be reminded that owning an animal is a privilege, not a right, and that does go back to education,” she said.