Highly compassionate and empathetic individuals devote themselves to animal health care—an emotional and labor-intensive profession. Although these caring veterinary professionals—driven by lifelong dreams of becoming a voice for the voiceless—save pets’ lives, they are prone to developing burnout, compassion fatigue, and mental health problems. The pandemic’s challenges initiated a much-needed conversation around veterinary professionals’ mental health, and this discussion should include pet owners, as well. Our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team values our clients and the important role they play in maintaining a positive clinic culture. To learn how you can continue supporting our amazing staff, read our responses to your common questions regarding veterinary professionals’ mental health. 

Question: What is compassion fatigue, and how does this condition affect veterinary professionals?

Answer: Compassion fatigue describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping and caring for others. Stress or trauma exacerbate compassion fatigue, a common and serious affliction among veterinary professionals. When we tell you that we care about your pet like they are our own, we mean it. We chose this profession because of our deep love for animals, and every day we come to work to do everything in our power to give pets their best quality of life. We love nothing better than saving a pet’s life, but, of course, at times our best isn’t enough. Although we put on a strong face to comfort our clients as they face their loss, we are likely wiping away tears after they leave our hospital. 

Q: Why is my veterinarian so busy?

A: The grief veterinarians feel when their animal patients suffer is one of many contributors to the profession’s mental health crisis. In addition, similar to those of other health care professionals, veterinary professionals’ days are jam-packed. To make matters worse, the veterinary profession is overwhelmed and struggling, because of a scarcity of staff—veterinarians, veterinary technicians, assistants, and client service representatives (CSRs)—one of the main reasons you may wait longer than you like for your pet to be seen. While feeling frustrated during a longer-than-anticipated wait is normal, before expressing your annoyance, consider why your veterinarian may be running late. Emergencies happen, and your tardy veterinarian may be saving the life of someone else’s beloved pet. On the other hand, perhaps they could not save someone’s pet, and your compassionate veterinarian may be supporting a family through one of the most difficult days of their life. We are not sharing these examples to make excuses for your long wait time, and we understand that your pet is your top priority. However, empathy goes a long way in supporting veterinary providers’ mental health. You’d be amazed at how the smallest compassionate gesture can bolster your veterinary staff’s mood when they are feeling low. 

Q: How can pet owners support veterinary mental health?

A: Our patients’ health and wellbeing are our top priorities. Despite the issues plaguing the veterinary industry, as a pet owner and client, you can help by:

  • Staying on top of your pet’s preventive care — To ensure they receive their vaccinations and parasite prevention refills on time, schedule your pet’s routine exam well in advance. 
  • Treating medical issues before they become serious — If your pet’s appearance or behavior concerningly changes, don’t wait to schedule a veterinary appointment until they are crying out in pain. Schedule an appointment at a problem’s first sign, because conditions are much easier—and less costly—to treat early in a disease’s progression.   
  • Being kind and empathic — Understand that the veterinary industry is carrying a huge burden. If you must wait a few extra minutes for your pet to be seen, strive to tamp down your annoyance, and approach our hardworking team with patience, empathy, and respect. In addition, remember that we’re all on the same team—working to ensure your pet receives the best care when needed.

Despite the staffing shortage issues facing the industry, our veterinary team is devoted to your pet’s health care. We care deeply about our clients and our pet patients, and feel fortunate to be in our lifelong dream job. Schedule an appointment with our amazing Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team if your pet is exhibiting concerning appearance or behavior changes, or they are ready for their wellness appointment.