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The Impact of Animal Loss on Veterinary Professionals

Compassion fatigue is a common ailment that can affect professional carers like veterinarians and veterinary support staff. Compassion fatigue is a state of mind associated often with helping animals and humans in need of medical attention.

It is sometimes known as "vicarious trauma," and it is the result of the high level of anxiety and attention experienced when dealing with the pain of animals being helped, to the extent that it might ultimately cause emotional distress in the helper. Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are feelings of apathy, isolation, bottled-up emotions, difficulty concentrating, steering away from challenging or uncomfortable circumstances, thinking about work-related tragedies frequently or excessively, and other psychological and physical issues. So, now that we understand what it is, how does it relate to veterinary professionals?

Veterinarian examining small dog

Compassion fatigue and the bereavement guilt caused by repeated exposure to animal euthanasia contributes to chronic stress in veterinary professionals. Statistics show that 75% of Registered Veterinary Technicians have experienced a decrease in their mental health and wellbeing. If left unchecked, these are the critical drivers of depression and burnout, and can lead to suicide.

In the past two years, 43.51% of veterinary professionals reported feeling suicidal. Additional factors such as long work hours, poor salary, having to deliver bad news to clients, dealing with animal cruelty, and seeing clients struggle to balance financial needs with the needs of their pets are some of the contributory factors of compassion fatigue.

Self-care and having a healthy work/life balance are essential to help prevent and treat compassion fatigue in the veterinary workplace. For example, eating well-balanced meals increases energy levels and improves mental health and well-being, and daily exercise helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is also essential for veterinary professionals to work together and to speak out rather than trying to cope alone when combatting compassion fatigue. Joining a workplace or online support group for other veterinary professionals also suffering from compassion fatigue can provide opportunities for learning healthy ways to deal with and to develop effective strategies to help.

HHA's next virtual Pet Lovers Death Café is on Wenesday, April 12th @ 7:00PM. You can register to attend here.

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