My first day in the animal care industry was a tough one. I was 15 years old and started volunteering in my local veterinary clinic. I’d learnt how to clean cages and feed some of the animals and was feeling pretty proud of myself. I was 15 minutes away from my shift ending when a tiny puppy came into the clinic. He couldn’t hold his head up and was unable to stand on his legs. He was not in a good way. As the vet assessed him, I could see there was no way this puppy could recover. I watched the Vet administer the medication to euthanise the puppy and in a few seconds, he was gone.
I remember holding in my emotions and trying to be brave but the minute I got home I was a blubbering mess. I was so upset that this little puppy had no chance of having a good life, but at the same time I was very aware that putting him to sleep was the best thing for him. While this wasn’t the happiest introduction to the animal care industry, it was a realistic one. Ultimately it did not stop me from pursuing this career path.
Working with animals can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling job. Some days are filled with puppies and kittens, great client interactions and loads of success stories, while other days can be the complete opposite. Depending on the area of the animal industry you work in, you might face different challenges. Some of which include:
- Animal cruelty
- Poisoning/toxicity cases
- Unable to help all animals
- Emergency cases
- Senior or palliative patients
- Working long hours
- Physically demanding work
With more time and experience in the industry, you may gain a stronger sense of resilience and an ability to overcome these challenges. However, it is normal to find yourself struggling to manage the emotional and physical toll that working with animals can have.
Studies suggest that veterinarians are up to four times more likely to fall victim to suicide than other health care professionals like nurses, dentists, and doctors. Mental health is a huge issue in the animal care industry and fortunately, it is something workplaces and industry bodies are becoming more and more aware of.
The challenges of the job may present in people through the following ways:
- Stress and tension
- Sleep problems (too much or too little)
- Moodiness or inability to control emotions
- Increase in substance use
It is so important to get to know yourself and be able to identify the early warning signs of stress. When you do this, you can prevent a decline in your physical and psychological wellbeing.
Some simple ways to maintain your wellbeing include:
- Regular exercise that you enjoy
- Getting enough quality sleep
- Eating well
- Practising gratitude
- Seeking support from friends and family
- Creating good connections with colleagues
- Promoting a work-life balance
I have found that keeping my physical health in check has a huge impact on my mental health. I try to eat well, practise yoga regularly, and ensure that when I finish a shift I leave the job behind until I return again.
So, although there are some very difficult moments when working with animals, there are also some amazing opportunities that come with the job. You have the skills and abilities to help an animal in need, you can find homes for animals without one, and you can be their voice when they can’t speak for themselves. These are some truly special things to offer the animals in our care. When you have a passion for something, there is so much potential to do great things.
If you or someone you are working with is struggling with their mental health, it is important to seek professional help. Contact Lifeline Australia (13 11 14).
 Australian Veterinary Association, Vet Health – Suicide, https://www.ava.com.au/member-services/vethealth/suicide/
Author: Olivia Basham (Mentor at Online Courses Australia)
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