Telling The Difference Of Compassion Fatigue And Burnout In Veterinary Field

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Written by Natasha Tanic, a psychologist with more than seventeen years of experience in mental health, counseling, and education.

Veterinarians are medical professionals who provide a range of services intending to protect the health of animals and people. A vet diagnoses and monitors animal diseases, treats sick and injured animals, and educates owners on animal care.

Telling the difference of compassion fatigue vs. burnout in the veterinary field can help you address your issues and prevent mental health problems.

Do I Suffer from Burnout: Telling the Difference of Compassion Fatigue vs. Burnout in Veterinary Field

Although a career in veterinary medicine is very rewarding, it can also be challenging at times, taking its toll on a veterinary professional’s mental health.

Some studies show that the veterinary profession is a profession with high levels of occupational stress and burnout.

Compassion fatigue and burnout can affect you in various ways

For example, both conditions can impair your mental health, diminish your work satisfaction and productivity, and affect your relationships with others.

Therefore, learning about these conditions can help distinguish between compassion fatigue and burnout in the veterinary field.

Also, understanding the patterns that can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout and their symptoms can help you take steps to avoid them and protect your emotional health.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue involves a reduced capacity for empathy and compassion. It is closely linked to the work you do, and it is brought on in response to your relationship with the clients.

The duties of a veterinarian involve helping animals and their owners in distress. Witnessing others’ suffering can trigger personal stress. When such stressors exceed our ability to cope, they can cause emotional and physical burden, leading to a reduced capacity for empathy.

In other words, emotional exhaustion that veterinary professionals experience in their everyday work sometimes results in empathy fatigue.

How to Recognize Compassion Fatigue in Veterinary Field?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue are associated with the work you do, and they typically involve:

  • Automatic negative thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Emotional numbness
  • Feeling guilty
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating problems
  • Headaches

How to Overcome Compassion Fatigue?

Since compassion fatigue is not situational, taking time off or deciding to start working at a new clinic will not solve your problem.

The constructive way to overcome compassion fatigue in the veterinary field is to recognize and address your issues on time.

Seeking help from a mental health professional upon noticing the first signs of compassion fatigue can help alleviate your symptoms and start the healing process.

What is Burnout in Veterinary Field?

Burnout typically results from chronic stress at the workplace. For example, a veterinarian may experience burnout when they are overwhelmed by constant day-to-day demands at work.

Burnout can drain your energy, lower your mood, and reduce your performance and productivity. In addition, it can impair your physical and mental health, leading to severe emotional exhaustion.  

It is normal to feel tired or occasionally overwhelmed. However, if you feel like this most of the time, you may be experiencing burnout related to your profession.


What are the Symptoms of Burnout in the Veterinary Field?

One of the most typical signs of burnout is emotional exhaustion.

You may feel drained most of the time, lacking energy and motivation. Other symptoms of burnout may include:

  • Alienation from job-related activities
  • Desire to take a break from colleagues and clients
  • A cynical attitude toward work
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Feelings of negativity and hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Digestion problems and stomach pains
  • Feeling helpless and worthless
  • Problems concentrating
  • Reduced performance at work and home

How to Overcome Burnout?

Unlikely compassion fatigue, burnout is a situational condition. So, one of the possible ways to overcome burnout in the veterinary profession is to change your environment and start fresh in a new work environment.

Taking time off or cutting work hours can also have a dramatic effect.

However, identifying what triggers your burnout can help you understand why this condition has occurred in the first place.

In addition, working on burnout causes can prevent this condition from relapsing in the future. 

In addition, mental health counseling can help you develop stress management strategies, boost your resilience, and reinforce healthy coping mechanisms.


Burnout and compassion fatigue are work-related conditions that can strain your physical and emotional well-being, affect your performance and productivity, and impair your relationships.

The first step in beating compassion fatigue and burnout is learning the tools to prevent them.

Reaching out to professionals can help.

Also, understanding the difference between compassion fatigue vs. burnout in the veterinary field can help identify and address these conditions before they start taking a toll on your health and well-being.