compassion fatigueThe depth of love we feel for our animal friends is both astounding and understandable. Our pets fill our homes with joy, laughter, and an incredible bond unlike any other. So, it’s not unusual to feel grief and loss when we must say goodbye to a cherished pet.

For those whose lives are focused on caring for animals, the likelihood of being exposed to these feelings, as well as the day-to-day toll of taking care of terminally ill or sick pets, can be detrimental to well being. Compassion fatigue among veterinary professionals is common but often not discussed. Those on the frontlines of pet health care, such as shelter works, veterinarians and technicians, and caretakers for gravely ill pets, are all at risk of exhaustion and depression.

The team at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital wants to explore ways to better cope with grief, loss, and other strong feelings in response to caring for pets. It’s our way of supporting those who understand this unique but common situation.

Compassion Fatigue Among Pet Caregivers

Compassion fatigue is defined as the emotional impact of witnessing and caring for those who are ill, dying, or traumatized. Typically, it’s marked by exhaustion and depression, but can also include insomnia, anxiety, and other problems.

Veterinarians and veterinary professions  – These professionals deal with death every day and at a higher rate than medical professionals. Yet, there’s little research on the emotional impact of working in this field. From our experience, each patient we treat becomes like family to us. We truly care about the outcome of each pet and feel the emotional outpouring of concern, confusion, and sadness among owners when treating a terminally ill or injured pet.

Shelter and rescue workers  –  From those on the frontline of animal abuse and neglect to shelter workers who deal with inevitably high rates of euthanasia, these individuals often see some of the worst scenarios that involve animals.

Caregivers  – Compassion fatigue can certainly also affect those who care for ill animal companions. Depending on the level of medical and daily care needed for a pet, the long term impact can have a similar result as those who work with animals.

Pet Owners – Grieving for a pet can also cause a sense of exhaustion and depression if not dealt with appropriately, so anyone who loves and lives with our small family members can be at risk for compassion fatigue.

Signs of Depression and Ways to Cope With Loss

Choosing a career that relates to the well being of animals is not a decision that we regret. After all, what’s more meaningful than supporting the health and happiness of our animal friends? However, it’s important to be aware of the following signs of depression or fatigue:

  • Isolation
  • Insomnia and/or nightmares
  • Irritability
  • Sadness or apathy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of self-care
  • Bottled up emotions

When working closely with pets who are ill, it’s important to make daily self-care a habit. Here are some suggestions to keep your emotional and physical health a priority during grief or sadness:

  • Talk about your experiences and feelings with a trusted friend or possibly a therapist or other counseling professional.
  • Use meditation and deep breathing exercises.
  • Practice self-care, such as good hygiene, diet, exercise, and rest.
  • Acknowledge your feelings.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help.
  • Discuss ways to avoid burnout with a counselor or other staff members.
  • Understand that feelings such as guilt and anger are valid and can be expressed in a safe and healthy way.

In the midst of loss or grief, it’s easy to want to block out the pain. There’s nothing wrong about caring so much it hurts. It’s how we process these feelings that matters.

From those of us who understand the impact of these losses, we hope we can encourage a healthier way to embrace the pain and acknowledge the joy. Ultimately, the love we feel is commendable and inspires us to bring the best level of care to our animal friends.

For more information about compassion fatigue among animal care professionals, please contact us.