Veterinarians and veterinary nurses take an oath that includes promoting animal welfare and preventing animal suffering,1,2 but the oath can become a burden when those helping patients and clients do not take care of themselves. Euthanizing a patient is one of many stressful veterinary events that contribute to compassion fatigue,3-7 a condition experienced by those in helping professions5,8 that depletes internal resources.6 Therefore, veterinary professionals need ways to cope with such stress.
Veterinary team members often have mixed emotions about euthanasia, which is literally translated as good death. Some have difficulty seeing any good, whereas others feel privileged to offer euthanasia to clients and help them make an end-of-life decision for their pet. The conflicts team members experience depend on personal beliefs and values, as well as the circumstances; for example, team members may not struggle internally when a patient has a low quality of life but may be deeply conflicted when euthanasia is chosen for reasons such as the owner’s quality of life, financial situation, or other nonmedical issues.3,4,7,9
Many other emotions can arise in these situations. Veterinary team members often feel grief when they have formed a close relationship with a client and patient and can be conflicted with other feelings10 (eg, relief the patient is no longer suffering, sadness his or her life has ended, gratitude to have helped provide a peaceful death). Other team members may feel angry or frustrated that a treatable animal was euthanized, helpless because they could not do more for the patient, but grateful for knowing the patient’s fate.
These feelings can manifest in compassion fatigue and affect team members emotionally, spiritually, socially, physically, and intellectually.6 Practices should always have a plan that addresses every effect.