Human/Animal Bond

So You Want to Marry a Veterinarian

Veterinarians often expend their emotional energy during the workday

Published: July 09, 2018

Car repairs and veterinary bills are two of the emergency expenses I fear the most. Doesn’t it seem like as soon as you gather up a little savings, the air conditioning in your car quits (right when the summer heat starts to roll in, of course), or your goofy Labrador swallows your MP3 player and needs emergency surgery?

Friends and I used to joke that I should marry either a mechanic or a veterinarian since I love cars and cats, and they end up costing me so much money.

As it turned out I did actually marry a mechanic, I can tell you that having one for a spouse is indeed all that it’s cracked up to be, and I swear, I’m only a little bit biased. Don’t worry, I didn’t just marry him for his fancy wrenches (he also looks pretty cute in his uniform shirt with his name stitched on the pocket), although his chosen profession does come in handy and often saves us quite a bit of money on car repairs. 

If you’ve ever had to fork over your savings to have personal electronics removed from your Labrador’s GI tract, it may have crossed your mind that having a veterinarian for a spouse might help you save money on your vet bills. Besides, everyone knows that veterinarians are really smart and they love animals. So, what could go wrong? While I’m not entirely sure being married to a veterinarian would actually save you much money on veterinary bills, having worked closely with veterinarians for 14 years has shown me that life with a veterinarian spouse would also definitely present some unique challenges.

Whether you haven’t yet changed your dating profile headline to “Must love dogs and know how to fix ‘em” or you’ve already found a vet in shining scrubs, here are a few things you might want to consider.

Marrying a veterinarian doesn’t mean you automatically get free pet care.

Well, okay maybe it does. I get free automotive care. But, we’re talking pure labor here. Thanks to my 2008 Dodge Avenger, my husband is becoming an expert on replacing window regulators. I may be getting free labor (thank goodness, since my car has eaten up three of them in the past two years!), but the parts themselves don’t exactly grow on trees! Sure, your veterinarian spouse will probably be a great source of advice and likely wouldn’t charge for the time and labor it takes to remove your MP3 player from Fido’s belly, but there’s so much more to it than just time and labor. Diagnostic tests, anesthesia and monitoring, pain medications, and other surgical supplies, not to mention using the clinic surgical facilities, all cost money too. Even if your spouse owns the clinic, there will still be expenses involved that you would both face. 

Not every veterinarian works on all kinds of animals.

With the right tools and parts my husband can fix just about any kind of car or truck, but when his Harley needs repair, he takes it to someone who specializes in them. If you’ve got a house full of cats and dogs and other assorted small furry critters, you may not get much help from a veterinarian who specializes in large animals, exotics, or aquatic creatures. While it’s true that some diseases and conditions occur in both small and large animals -- such as brucellosis, pyometra, and even diabetes - the differences in their basic anatomy means treatment protocols, drug dosages, and diet recommendations will likely vary.

You may disagree with the way your spouse practices medicine.

I have to defer to my husband here since I don’t know enough about cars to have an opinion on how they should be fixed, but certainly, anyone who’s ever owned a pet has their own ideas on how best to care for them. Traditional veterinarians take a vastly different approach to diagnosing and treating disease than holistic or alternative veterinarians do. The primary treatments offered by traditional veterinarians include prescription medications and surgical procedures, which holistic veterinarians typically view as a last resort if other options have failed or your pet’s life is at risk. Also, holistic and traditional veterinarians usually have different philosophies regarding the frequency and type of vaccinations necessary. If you’re used to taking Fido and Fluffy in for yearly vaccinations or you aren’t open to the idea of home-cooked or raw food diets, you may find yourself butting heads with your new spouse over these and other issues.

Veterinarians aren’t exactly rolling in dough.

Considering that when you take your car to the shop to fix that pesky oil leak you’ll pay about $60-90 per hour for the labor, you might think your mechanic will be driving home to his mansion in a Mercedes Benz. But, the technician who does the work doesn’t actually get all that money and the owner of the shop who does get it has overhead costs just like any other business. There’s always more going on behind the scenes than we can see. Most veterinarians are saddled with a large amount of student loan debt from veterinary school, and it often takes decades to repay. It’s common for clients to mistakenly believe that because treatment for some conditions is so expensive, the veterinarian must be in it for the money. Any veterinarian anywhere will tell you that’s just not the case. If you’re looking for a sugar daddy/mommy you’d be better off marrying what many mothers-in-law like to refer to as a ‘real doctor,’ an MD. (If you’re looking for a spouse who’s literally rolling in dough, marry a pastry chef.)

They often come home stinky, blood-stained, or with animal parts in their hair.

Cars may not bleed, but they sure do require a lot of smelly ‘bodily fluids,’ and those fluids inevitably find their way onto my husband’s clothes. He’s allowed to wear shorts at work in the summer, but they don’t get laundered with the rest of his uniform. I do it because I don’t like to see him walking around in shorts that look like he picked them up off the freeway. I’m pretty sure that by now I should be part owner of a stain remover company. When it comes to working in messy conditions with smelly bodily fluids, large animal veterinarians seem to fare the worst, but all veterinarians deal with stinky situations on a regular basis. Some of the worst olfactory offenders -- anal glands, necrotic tissues, and pyometras to name just a few -- are apt to linger even after a shower and change of clothes. If you’re sensitive to odors, squeamish about stray chunks of intestine, or picky about poop stains, it may take some getting used to.

Being a veterinarian is emotionally draining.

If a customer is struggling with finding the money to pay for repairs, my husband doesn’t feel guilty about the $60-90 per hour labor rate. If the customer chooses not to fix the car, he doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about the car suffering. When a car is damaged or broken beyond repair, my husband doesn’t feel sad for the customer’s loss (unless it’s a Chevy). He doesn’t have to hold back tears as he watches the tow-truck haul the car off to the junkyard (but he might try to buy it from them first). He just moves on to the next car and the next customer. Veterinarians aren’t so lucky. They have often expended all their emotional energy during the workday -- stressing over surgeries, calming frantic pet owners, grieving the deaths of patients. At the end of the day, many veterinarians aren't capable of much more than sitting on the couch and staring at the TV for an hour or two before they can even talk. A veterinarian’s spouse must be incredibly patient.

Clearly, those scenarios are just a small sample of the challenges you’d face as a veterinarian's spouse. Before you set out on your search for your very own Dr. Doolittle, there are many more questions to ask yourself, such as:

“Will I have to listen to stories about lancing an abscess, expressing anal glands, or delivering stillborn farm animals over dinner?”

Yes. Try not to toss your cookies.

“Will my spouse work long hours, weekends, and attend to late-night emergencies, making it hard to have a 9-5 kind of life?”

Most likely, yes. Just think of all the ‘me-time’ you will have!

“Am I prepared to foster every stray or unwanted pet my spouse brings home from the clinic, til death do us part?”

It’s only until you find a new home for them. Some will even have all their limbs. 

By now you may be wondering if things really are as grim as they sound and if the prospect of matrimonial bliss with a veterinarian is really just a fantasy. Are there really nothing but cons? Where are the pros? The self-proclaimed romance specialists at eHarmony came up with a list you may find encouraging. If you’re interested in an actual veterinarian’s take on the subject, check out one veterinarian’s rebuttal to that list.

Do your pets get to weigh in on your dating decisions? We haven’t touched on the relationship between your pets and your potential veterinary love interest. Will they take it in stride or run and hide whenever your new love comes around, reeking of other animals? How will they adapt to being part of a veterinarian's family

Now that you know some of the gory details, if you still think it’d be fun to share your life and home with someone who loves animals, works long hours, still has tons of student debt in their 40s, and sometimes smells extremely unpleasant, then maybe a veterinarian WOULD make a great match for you!


Michele Gaspar
March 4, 2019

I want to thank you for your concern about your husband's mood shifts.  I am a veterinarian and a psychotherapist and what you are seeing is concerning for depression in your husband.  It's often difficult to bring up these types of concerns with our spouses, but I would recommend finding a time when you can speak about what you are seeing in a gentle way.  He might get defensive, might blame his moods on his work (which may well be true), but ultimately you want the best for your husband; you want him to be happy and the two of your to be happy.  I also would not discount that there could be some physical issues that are impacting his moods, so having him visit his primary care physician would be a good first step.  Perhaps you could attend the visit with him.  Another option is for you to leave a message with his PCP, explaining your concerns. The Veterinary Information Network (VIN) (parent of VetzInsight) has a number of free resources for veterinarians who are facing professional and personal challenges through the VIN Foundation's Vets4Vets program.  Through V4V, your husband can avail himself to a confidential online support group or talk with a mentor, if he feels that may help him. Veterinarians, as most health care providers, often will not seek mental health help, because they falsely believe that that makes them appear weak.  So, you may have to visit the topic again.  If your husband will not seek help, then for your own peace of mind, I would encourage you to seek some type of mental health counseling. I hope that your husband hears the care, concern and love that are so obvious in your letter to VetzInsight, and is willing to seek help for himself. With my best to both of you, Michele Gaspar DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) MA, LCPC

Confused gal
February 21, 2019

As a vets wife, I do my best to help in anyway possible to make life easier for him after work (like cooking, cleaning, etc. I also work full 8 hours in corporate). But I also noticed that he's becoming extremely short-tempered, easily angered, and very cynical and judgmental. It affects me because I really do get the back end of all his stresses/frustrations/emotions, even though I know he doesn't mean to take it out on me. It really makes me not want to be around the negative energy.
So my question is, what can I do to make his life easier? Happier? Less negative Nancy, less Debbie Downer? I always told him I don't want him to end up being a grumpy old man, because I see it so clearly going down that path. Should he go to a therapist and talk? Should I have him talk? Or leave him alone? Any help/advice would be so so appreciated!!!

Shanna Compton
July 10, 2018

I'm a vet. Luckily, I married a mechanical engineer who works on huge tumor-zapping devices, so we both joke that we are "married to our work." It's quite true that there are times that I'm at work from 8am until 10pm, or he has to take a meeting with the team in Germany starting at 2am. It is part of how we make it work. He doesn't let me talk about work over dinner. He has already heard the story about how a discussion between myself and a vet-tech friend stopped 6 other tables around us from eating when we discussed enucleation. :D

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