Although continuing professional development (CPD) is regarded as mandatory by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, it is not yet a statutory requirement. To understand what motivates veterinary surgeons to engage in CPD and perceived barriers to participation, a national survey was administered to a sample of the profession. The study sought to report overall opinion and to compare the views of different groups in terms of decade of graduation, gender, employment status, area of employment and position in the workplace. The results of the study are encouraging in that recent graduates would like to engage in more CPD, compared with their predecessors, and are the most intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. However, significant barriers to participation exist, including personal barriers, a lack of workplace support and a lack of CPD activities at a suitable time, location or level. Part-time workers reported higher barriers than full-time workers. Although the majority (90 per cent) of respondents receive all or part of their CPD funding from employers, a significant proportion (41 per cent) are required to fund at least part of their CPD. First-opinion practitioners reported significantly less access to a professional library, which has implications for lifelong learning and the practice of evidence-based veterinary medicine.