What is a Veterinary Social Worker?




Marissa Metzger, MSW, LSW is the veterinary social worker at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.

Social work services are available to owners of animal patients of The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. Our typical office hours are 9:00 a.m – 5 p.m, M/W/F, and 10:00 a.m – 6:00 p.m, T/Th.

To reach a social worker, please ask a client services representative or other member of your pet's medical team to contact us.  You may also contact us, directly, at (614) 247-8607 or e-mail at CVM-OSUVET.HonoringTheBond@osu.edu

You may also access our online brochures and resources on our website: Honoring the Bond website.

What is a veterinary social worker?

The role of a social worker in a veterinary hospital is similar to that of a social worker in a human hospital.  Social workers in a veterinary hospital are active members of the veterinary healthcare team.  Social workers may practice in a hospital that is privately-owned or one that is part of an academic setting, such as Colleges of Veterinary Medicine.  While services provided vary from hospital to hospital, the following are examples of common services that are provided by social workers in veterinary hospitals:

Support for Animal Owners:   

  • Act as a liaison between the animal owner and veterinary medical team by helping communicate the owner's questions and concerns, and assuring the medical team’s information is presented in a manner the client can understand.
  • Provide crisis intervention during difficult situations
  • Offering support during diagnostic testing and treatment
  • Assist in processing difficult decisions (quality of life assessments, treatment decisions) with owners 
    • Think and talk through treatment for your animal
    • Prioritize the many commitments you have in your life
    • Decide when the right time is for you to stop treatment
    • Assisting you as you think through the possible choice to end your animal’s pain and suffering
  • Be present before, during, and/or after euthanasia, if you wish
  • Being with your animal, if you cannot be present during your animal’s euthanasia
  • Facilitate family discussions with children.  (Communicate your animal’s illness and possible death with your children)
  • Offering (or providing referral to):
    • Pet cemeteries and crematories
    • Individual, family or couple grief support sessions
    • Pet Loss Support Groups
    • Caregiver Support Groups for those caring for animals with chronic illness (groups focusing on mitigating care burden for certain populations, eg animals with seizure disorders)
    • Animal Remembrance/Memorial Services
    • Other resources as needed; financial aid for pet care, domestic violence referrals etc.
  • Offering or providing resources, such as:
    • Books or Suggested Reading Lists for anticipatory loss and/or pet loss
    • Brochures or Handouts on what to expect during this time of grief

Support for the Veterinary Healthcare team (all hospital employees): 

  • Providing debriefing after difficult situations
  • Offering crisis support and referral to ongoing counseling
  • Providing in-house workshops on a variety of topics, such as communication, wellness, compassion fatigue, setting boundaries, etc.,
  • Advocating for appropriate boundaries and expectations for the team members
  • Mediating difficult situations between team members or between the team and owners.
  • Providing consultation on unclear situations, such as ethical considerations, animal abuse reporting, etc.

Macro Social Work & Academic Involvement

  • Involvement in research, and publishing focusing on the human animal bond and the psychosocial issues it may present.
  • Involvement with development of  policies around delivery of care which is strength based and culturally informed
  • Support the site in becoming a clinical placement for graduate level clinical social work students wishing to focus on veterinary social work.
  • Work with a variety of groups to develop practice guidelines, competencies for clinical social workers practicing in settings which interface with animals.
  • Serve as consultant to various stakeholders involved in the provision of care to animals.
  • Provide workshops to various interest groups, on a variety of topics, such as communication, wellness, compassion fatigue, setting boundaries, etc.  These may be presented locally, nationally or even internationally.
  • May be involved with the development and presentation of course materials for veterinary students.
  • May provide support services or counseling to veterinary students.