Mental health and self-care in our veterinary nursing community

As Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month nears its end, the appreciation I have as a vet for hard-working nurses worldwide remains endless.

You are compassionate and empathetic, counsellors to distressed clients, shoulders to cry on, advocates for pets and a vet’s most reliable comrade. Together, we have the power to save and better the lives of companion pets.

While many nurses would admit having the ability and means to save the lives of pets on a daily basis is sufficient to satisfy their personal care needs, this is often not the case. Mental health in the veterinary profession is often understated.

Compassion fatigue and burnout are very real concerns in the veterinary nursing demographic, and this issue needs to be brought to light. Nurses, by nature, wear their hearts on their sleeves – they are tremendously caring, with a passion and honest love for the pets they nurse.

I want to emphasize the importance of self-care and outline signs that might indicate whether you are at risk of compassion fatigue or burnout. Remember, it’s okay to not be okay. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue feels emotional, but it can become a physical burden, too.

Nurses are helping others deal and cope with trauma, stress and loss on a daily basis, which can easily result in desensitisation. It’s a coping mechanism, but can become more dangerous than that. It can lead to a sense of hopelessness and these early signs are often ignored.

I implore those in our nursing community not to brush off those early signs of fatigue; it is never too early to ask for help. You dedicate your life to helping pets and owners in need – be proud. But do not be afraid to admit, sometimes, it gets too much. There is a good chance if you are struggling, your co-workers are too.


Say you are ordinarily happy and happiest surrounded by cats and dogs. Then, one day, a puppy passes by, but you are no longer excited – something is wrong. Slowly, you begin to feel negative and cynical. Your emotional stores have become depleted and you no longer feel excited or even upset. It’s time to ask for help.

Your own well-being is as important as that of your patients. IMAGE: 2002lubava1981 / Fotolia.

Compassion fatigue symptoms can include:

  • bottling up emotions
  • sadness and apathy
  • not feeling the same joy for activities previously enjoyed
  • isolation
  • loss of concentration
  • mental and physical exhaustion
  • illness

Coping strategies

Here are some tips to consider for helping to cope with fatigue compassion:

Accept symptoms

If you are struggling emotionally, know it is okay to mention it – it is not weak, nor a sign of being unsuccessful or vulnerability. Our jobs are emotional and challenging both physically and mentally. It is safe to say everyone will be confronted with circumstances they struggle with; accepting help is a sign of strength.

Try something new

Find something you truly enjoy – pets are your passion and we are fortunate enough to work with them every day.

“Do a job you love and you never work a day in your life” is a great quote, and true for many of us, but ensure you have a life outside of work. Go out with friends, take a course, take up a sport, join an art class – hobbies and activities outside of work can help clear the mind and stimulate personal growth.

Talk to someone

Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about your experiences. It’s okay to be upset about a negative outcome with a pet – accept we deal with a great deal of traumatic cases.

The beautiful thing about those of us working in the veterinary profession is we treat pets as if they were our own, so you know you have always done your best and that’s all anyone can ask. Focus on the “patient wins” and know tomorrow is another day to save some precious lives.

Show your appreciation

The veterinary profession is home to a unique and inspirational array of individuals.

Nurses are the hearts of the industry and we need to take care of them; they are the glue in our teams holding us together. So, as vets, clients, receptionists and anyone else lucky enough to know a veterinary nurse, let us be there for them and hold them in the highest esteem they so deserve.


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