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Creating the Tails of Wellness project
To help encourage and remind veterinary professionals to take care of their mental and physical health, one dvm360 student ambassador launched the Tails of Wellness project.
Growing up, my moral values and life lessons stemmed from animal folk tales and the pets I shared my home with. Animal behavior always intrigued me, and as a veterinary student, I tend to observe the behavior of the patients I encounter. Every animal that comes to the clinic brings a nugget of wisdom. For example, anxious cats teach me how new surroundings can be a stressor for some and how important it is to have a safe space to retreat into. The hyperactive dog teaches me how we must take the time to calm down and trust our surroundings.
As the Project Manager of the International Veterinary Student Association’s (IVSA) Standing Committee on Wellness in 2020-21, I launched the Tails of Wellness Project. It featured tales of wellness and self-care based on the behaviors and habits of various animal species.
I wrote about felines and feelings, which explored how cats are highly self-reliant and self-aware creatures. They are more expressive than we give them credit for. Feline behavior can teach us so much about setting boundaries and maintaining interpersonal relationships. They build trust gradually and articulate it by bunting—rubbing themselves against the human’s legs and marking them with their scent. When overwhelmed, cats always retreat into a safe space such as inside boxes or under sofas. They also trust their instinct and always assert themselves. How many times have we seen them instinctively put up their paws with retractable claws at us without hesitation?
Moreover, cats purr with a frequency ranging from 25 to 150 Hz (specifically 25 to 50 Hz in domestic cats), which has the power of healing. These frequencies correspond to electrical frequencies used for fracture healing, bone growth, and treatment of wounds.1 Felines undoubtedly have a stunning intrinsic healing mechanism.
The “Dog breeds as self-care tips” segment explored the characteristic traits of different dog breeds and how they have simple activities that humans can practice to relieve stress. For example, a stretching Pembroke Welsh Corgi reminds us to stretch our body muscles to help ease tension, and a water-loving Golden Retriever reminds us of how relaxing a hot water bath can be after a stressful day. Basset hounds, with their noses sniffing the ground, show us how smelling essential oils or candles can help ground us. Dogs thrive on routines that include good nutrition, adequate exercise, and sleep, which are translated into the basic needs that humans must prioritize even with a busy schedule.
Research shows that canines can sniff out emotional states like happiness, stress, and anxiety in humans by their vocalizations.2 Service dogs provide support to humans suffering from psychological and mental health disorders. Studies show that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who own service dogs have significantly lower levels of anxiety, anger and sleep disturbances.3 Canines truly are the wagging tails of wellness.
Koalas sleep up to 22 hours a day, tucked in nooks, conserving their energy after consuming hefty amounts of eucalyptus leaves. Even though humans don’t require that many hours of sleep, it is important for us to get between 6 and 8 hours of good “koala-ty” sleep. When talking about koalas, Tails of Wellness featured some tips to ensure better sleeping habits like creating sleep rituals, keeping devices away for at least 40 minutes before bedtime and snacking, if at all, on melatonin and tryptophan-rich foods like berries or yogurt before bed.
Ecdysis refers to the process in which snakes shed their skin a few times a year when their body has outgrown their skin. This reminds us that we need to shed old habits that no longer serve us and redefine ourselves. Transition periods like jumping from veterinary school to clinic internships can be characterized with some uncertainty. However, they provide us an opportunity to build skills and grow to give our patients the care they deserve.
The statistics of mental health in veterinary medicine paint a disheartening picture, plagued with stress, anxiety, and depression. A global veterinary online wellness survey conducted by WSAVA in 2019 revealed that thousands of veterinarians, all around the world, experience stress and diminished well-being with females and younger individuals being more severely affected.4 The Merck Animal Health and American Veterinary Medical Association conducted a survey of 3,500 veterinarians and reported that 1 in 20 veterinarians suffer from serious issues surrounding mental health.5
With long work hours, high-stress levels, poor work-life balance, and emotional exhaustion, veterinary professionals are prone to compassion fatigue and burnout. Identifying stressors, learning coping mechanisms early on, and having healthy workplace boundaries along with wellness practices can significantly reduce levels of stress.
I hope Tails of Wellness can be a little reminder for the hardworking veterinarians to prioritize their wellness and look after themselves as they look after their patients.
To learn more, check out the Tails of Wellness website.
Mehal Punjabi is a dvm360 student ambassador. Currently, she is in her fourth year of veterinary science at Mumbai Veterinary College, India.
- von Muggenthaler E. The felid purr: A healing mechanism? J Acoust Soc Am. 2001;110(5):2666-2666. doi:10.1121/1.4777098
- Siniscalchi M, d’Ingeo S, Fornelli S, Quaranta A. Lateralized behavior and cardiac activity of dogs in response to human emotional vocalizations. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):77. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18417-4
- The Effect of a Service Dog on Salivary Cortisol Awakening Response in a Military Population with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)Kerri E. Rodriguez, Crystal I. Bryce, Douglas A. Granger, Marguerite E. O’Hairehttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.04.026
- WSAVA targets global veterinary wellness following survey results. Wsava.org. Published 2019. Accessed February 15, 2022. https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/WSAVA-Targets-Global-Veterinary-Wellness-Following-Survey-Results-PR.pdf
- Veterinarians wellbeing. Merck Animal Health. Published October 23, 2019. Accessed February 15, 2022. https://www.merck-animal-health.com/about-us/featured-stories/veterinarians-wellbeing/