Dealing With Compassion Fatigue

As a vet, you are required to care for animal and their owners every day. It’s easy to forget to care for yourself. Working in a compassionate and caring profession can take its toll.

As a Patch & Purr Vet Partner, you will receive the care and support you need to continue giving your clients the best possible service. Keep reading to learn how to spot compassion fatigue along with coping mechanism and other self-care tips.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue, also known as empathy fatigue, is caused by the emotional burden of helping others and working in an intensely empathetic role for long periods of time without breaks. It is common amongst those working in healthcare roles. One of the key signs of compassion fatigue an increasing difficulty to empathise, which is obviously a very important part of any care related role, including veterinary professions.

It’s a form or disassociation, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that comes after an intense period of intense emotional strain. Physical circumstances can also exacerbate compassion fatigue, including scratching, bites and other physical dangers you may encounter as a vet.

The symptoms of compassion fatigue can be mental, emotional and physical. You may experience anxiety, panic or even depression. Physical symptoms include nausea, lack of focus, headaches, insomnia and dizziness. The strain these symptoms can take will only worsen your compassion fatigue, acting as a vicious circle.

By working in a role that requires intense empathy, you will find yourself experiencing your client’s trauma, also known as “countertransference”.

Taking a break may seem impossible, due to work commitments and the feeling of pressure from colleagues, or even yourself, to maintain a certain level of care for long periods of time. However, this is not possible to maintain and, if left untreated, compassion fatigue may result in a period of sick leave or worse. By acknowledging the symptoms of compassion fatigue, you will be able to work to treat the condition before it makes a potentially huge negative impact on your life.


Symptoms of compassion fatigue

The symptoms of compassion fatigue may vary depending on the individual. Contributing factors include the time spent with distraught/grieving families, the tasks carried out with animals, work/life balance, shift patterns and demand for on-call work. Symptoms of compassion fatigue may include:

Physical and emotional exhaustion

You may feel exhausted but unable to fully recover.


You may feel like you are not present in situations or that you can’t connect with people like you once did.


Your bedside manner may be poor and things that previously seemed easy are now a struggle.


Tension in the eyes and face can cause headaches and even migraines in times of stress.


Despite chronic exhaustion, you may struggle to sleep when the time comes to relax.

Nausea and vomiting

Our digestive systems often react to our stress levels.


Combatting compassion fatigue

The longer you ignore the symptoms of compassion fatigue, the worse you may feel. Unfortunately, there is no single cure for compassion fatigue, as it effects everybody differently. However, there are several common practices you can introduce into your life to combat the symptoms of compassion fatigue, while working to prevent it in the future.

Awareness is the first stage of healing. By acknowledging the symptoms, you have and accepting that you want to get better, you are starting on the path to recovery. By introducing the following self-care tips into your life, you will find the clouds of compassion fatigue starting to lift. As a result, you will be able to treat your clients and patients with the care and respect they deserve, while maintaining your own mental and physical health.


How to treat compassion fatigue

Assess workloads and reduce where possible

If you are running overcapacity then it’s only a matter of time before you crash. If you are experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue, you should take a step back and assess your workload.

Speak to your manager

The first step to reducing your work load is to make plans to speak to your manager. Let them know how you feel and that you are experiencing compassion fatigue. It is in their best interest to support you through this difficult time as they won’t want to lose you. Make a practical plan to reduce your work hours so you can give your best possible care every time.

Try exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, which is amazing for the relief of stress. However, we don’t recommend forcing yourself to run a marathon (unless that’s your thing then go ahead!). It’s important to pick an exercise that you love, whether it’s team sports or hiking, rock climbing or swimming in the ocean, they’re all excellent ways to release stress and tension after a long week at work.

Practice meditation

Dating back thousands of years, this Buddhist tradition is becoming increasingly popular thanks to the growing trend of mindful mobile apps. Meditation may seem intimidating but it is in fact a very simple and effective technique to bring you back to the present moment. Focusing around mindful breathing, you can meditate just about anywhere. We recommend trying to meditate for a short period each day, with the help of a mobile app such as Calm. Once you have built the habit, you can start to build up the length of time you can sit. These sweet moments of zen will start to transcend into your daily life, we promise.

Reach out to others

There’s a reason why people say: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’ Sharing your thoughts and feelings with close friends and family can help relief the internal tension. Meanwhile, your nearest and dearest can support you through this transition as you work towards recovery.

Contact Us

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We strive to treat your loyal companion with the care and respect they deserve at every step of the way. Call us on 1300 112 711 or use the contact form below, and a Patch & Purr team member will get back to you. By clicking send you agree to consent to our privacy policy.