If you are living with a seriously (or terminally) ill dog, cat, or other companion animal, then you know how stressful that can be. A recent study published in the Veterinary Record has found that your pet’s health problems have a very real impact on your emotional health. Caregivers for sick pets are much more likely to suffer from stress, depression, and anxiety than the owners of healthy animals.
Research conducted by Kent State University scientists surveyed 119 owners of dogs and cats with a chronic or terminal illness and 119 owners of healthy pets. Not surprisingly, the “caregiver burden” was much greater in the owners of the sick pets, who showed more symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression—as well as an overall lower quality of life and poorer psycho-social functioning—than the people who lived with healthy pets.
The researchers note that the concept of caregiver burden in pet owners needs to be better understood by veterinarians, so that they can recognize and help clients who show signs of stress and depression. They suggest that vets can even partner with mental health professionals to support their clients.
In an editorial that accompanies the article, the authors note that the stress of caring for a seriously or terminally ill pet can be as substantial as that of caring for a very sick human family member. But caregivers for ill humans have a significant support network (nurses, home health aides, hospice, etc.) that pet owners do not have. The authors argue that this is why it’s so important for veterinarians to be well-trained in how to handle client distress in difficult situations.