Veterinary medicine is a deeply rewarding profession, but for many, the work can take an emotional toll.

Due to the very nature of their jobs, caregivers in all professions have a higher risk of developing compassion fatigue, a secondary stress disorder resulting from continual exposure to the suffering of others. This is especially prevalent in the veterinary field as healthcare teams encounter death three times more than their human medicine counterparts.

In the excerpt below, When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession sheds some light on how compassion fatigue affects both the veterinary practice and the healthcare team—and how you can recognize it before it becomes a chronic problem.

“There seems to be a perception, particularly among caregivers, that there is not enough time to do all that must be done, especially when it comes to taking care of ourselves. We seem to be able to justify eliminating the things that benefit us, including having alone time, time for exercise, time with friends or family, time to meditate, or time to just be and not have to do anything at all. In the long run, however, by letting these things go by the wayside, we are doing ourselves and our loved ones no favors. Compassion fatigue causes high turnover rates, increases the likelihood of stress-related illnesses, results in more sick days, and, in general, decreases one’s overall productivity.

Your work as a veterinary care provider is emotionally complex and can be exhausting. Many of you struggle daily to function in environments that are filled with gut-wrenching trauma. Although it was once rewarding, your work can now seem both endless and thankless. You might encounter feelings of guilt, deep sorrow, or anger and rage on an intermittent or continual basis. Working with traumatized people and animals can often make care providers question their sense of safety, predictability, control, and protection. Compassion fatigue can mimic the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which include avoidance of reminders of the trauma, emotional numbness, nightmares, emotional flooding, and social withdrawal.

You owe it to yourself to learn how to cope with the difficult emotions that are part and parcel of veterinary caregiving, and to find a safe place in which to process and release these emotions. If you do not, you may begin to distance yourself physically and emotionally from the work that you previously enjoyed and felt that you were meant to do.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue vary but commonly include the following*:

  • Uncharacteristic anger and/or anxiety
  • Physical and/or mental exhaustion
  • Chronic physical ailments
  • Bottled-up emotions
  • The increased impulse to rescue a pet or a person
  • Sleep and/or appetite disturbances
  • Persistent headaches, neck aches, and/or stomach complaints
  • Uncharacteristic tardiness”

*This list has been condensed for space. 

Your team cannot pour from an empty cup. When Helping Hurts gives veterinary professionals the tools they need to care for themselves before caring for others. Order your copy today at

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