Compassion fatigue and burnout is common amongst those who work in the pet industry. As such, it’s imperative to understand the causes, the signs and how to avoid it.

Veterinarians, animal rescue workers, pet sitters, animal trainers and pet shelter staff do an amazing job on the frontline of pet health and animal care.

However, constantly placing the needs of others before your own and coping with the burden of trauma and pain can certainly take a heavy toll on your general and mental health.

Indeed, we know that suicide rates amongst vets are on the rise. Likewise, work-related stress, burnout and depression among vets are also alarmingly high.

Part of the problem is the fact that we often don’t talk about how we feel. Certainly, it’s understandable that a pet professional might believe that it is his or her job to care. Feelings of grief and loss can get brushed under the carpet in a bid to maintain composure and look professional at all times.

Caring for injured animals, witnessing pets in pain and dealing with the aftermath of euthanasia can all be hugely detrimental to our own wellness.

Exhaustion, stress and compassion fatigue amongst pet professionals is widespread, but unfortunately it’s rarely discussed or addressed.

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What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional stress caused from absorbing the trauma and emotional distress of others.

It has been described as “an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped; to the degree that it can cause secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”

While you might think that compassion fatigue is a condition that affects vets and those working in animal rescue shelters, it extends beyond these roles.

Without a doubt, vets and people who work in animal shelters see their fair share of animal suffering, abuse and neglect — but other pet industry professionals are not immune to compassion fatigue.

Pet sitters, animal behaviour consultants and dog trainers are also at risk. In fact, any role where animals are stressed, frightened, aggressive or where there are obvious signs of animal suffering and neglect can place you at risk of compassion fatigue.

Signs to watch out for

Firstly, it’s a step in the right direction to accept that compassion fatigue is not only very real, but it’s widespread.

The next step is to be aware of the signs to look out for. Common signs of compassion fatigue include:

  • Feelings of isolation from others
  • Loss of morale
  • Insomnia/nightmares
  • Irritability/change in moods
  • Sadness
  • Lack of concentration / lethargy
  • Lack of self-care
  • Compulsive behaviour
  • Substance abuse

These symptoms can be very disruptive and can have a significant negative impact on your work and personal life.

Undeniably, the feelings you experience when living with compassion fatigue can create additional stress, conflict amongst colleagues, absenteeism from work, general unhappiness and feelings of emptiness.

So it’s important to take steps to address the symptoms and regain control of your physical and emotional wellbeing.

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Dealing with compassion fatigue

If you feel you may be suffering from compassion fatigue or you know someone who is, there are measures you can take to help address it.

Certainly, knowing that compassion fatigue exists is vital. This awareness can help you recognise the signs in yourself and in others around you.

Take the time to consider how your job in the pet industry affects you emotionally and physically. By recognising the impact your job has on your health, you can take steps to address it.

The following actions may be helpful:

  • Regularly talk to those around you and share how you are feeling
  • Listen to others who are having a difficult time
  • Try not to let your job consume your life by taking time out for other activities such as sports and meditation
  • Take regular holidays to recharge the batteries
  • Realise that if you feel too exhausted or too stressed to take time out to care for yourself, you’re doing yourself an injustice
  • Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek professional counseling

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Preventative steps

Of course, we all know prevention is better than cure. While being mindful of the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue is paramount, it’s also important to adopt preventative measures.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to take care of your mental and physical health.

The following actions might help reduce the likelihood of developing compassion fatigue. What’s more, they are all positive ways to take care of yourself. Therefore, these actions can be used by anyone as a means of self-care.

  • Be aware of changes to the way you are feeling
  • Talk about your experiences with colleagues, a close friend or relative
  • Try using meditation as a way of relaxing and to bring stress relief
  • Set boundaries to help limit your emotional involvement
  • Adopt active coping measures such as social get-togethers and use of humour
  • Maintain a positive work-life balance to refuel your physical and emotional health.

Anyone who works in a role that involves caring for others – be it human or animal – can find themselves running on empty. It’s really important to accept the emotional toll and mental impact of constantly feeling empathy for others.

Be kind to yourself, as this will assist you to continue to keep an open heart and to love the work that you do.

Have you suffered from compassion fatigue? We’d love to hear from you.

Information sources / useful resources:

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project. Accessed online via: https://www.compassionfatigue.org

Compassion Fatigue Australia. https://compassionfatigue.com.au/vets-animal-workers/

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Leanne Philpott

Leanne is a professional freelance writer at contentchameleon.com.au. She works alongside her fur pal Chewie (a border terrier) to deliver information that is accurate and relevant to our readers.

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