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.
Many pet health experts consider cats to be “senior” after the age of 7. If your cat has reached the age of 20, then he or she is definitely in the senior range. But what about a 32-year old cat? That’s roughly the equivalent of 144 human years! One British cat named Nutmeg reached the ripe old age of 32 before passing on in late August.
According to Nutmeg’s owners, interviewed in a recent People Magazine article, this sweet guy enjoyed very robust health for most of his long life. He lost most of his teeth and did suffer a stroke back in 2015, but he recovered and went on to live two more years. His owners, a couple with no children, considered Nutmeg to be their child. “We both feel like our hearts have been ripped out. He was our little boy,” they said. Anyone who’s ever lost a beloved pet, regardless of age, knows that feeling.
Here’s a video of Nutmeg from back in 2016. His owner lovingly refers to him as a bit of a grumpy grandpa, but it’s obvious that he was a real sweetheart!
In the ongoing effort to understand what our pets are thinking, researchers have been performing MRI scans on dogs’ brains for the past several years. A recent canine brain scan study conducted by scientists at Emory University may help determine which dogs will make the best service dogs.
43 service dogs in training with the organization Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) underwent MRI scans to determine what makes a successful service dog. While all the dogs in the study had outwardly calm temperaments, the scans revealed that some of the dogs had higher levels of activity in the area of the brain associated with excitability. These dogs were more likely to fail the training program.
Scanning potential service dogs early in the training process could be very beneficial for organizations like CCI, since it can cost as much as $50,000 to fully train one dog. 70% of dogs that start a training program will drop out due to behavioral issues. Since there are always waiting lists for good service dogs, it would be efficient to weed out problematic candidates at the beginning.
Without the MRI scan, the early identification of dogs that would ultimately fail training had a 47% success rate. With the scan, the predictability of failure went up to a 67% success rate.
How did researchers test the dogs? While in the MRI machine, dogs were given hand signals for “treat” or “no treat.” The successful service dog candidates did show activity in a part of the brain associated with rewards when given the sign for “treat” but they did not show excessive activity in the excitability area of the brain. In contrast, the less successful candidates showed more excitability with the “treat” signal, including when signaled by strangers, a trait which trainers consider to be a red flag for service dogs.
Interested in learning more? You can read the full text of the article on the website for Scientific ReportsHERE.
Top image of some very good study participants: Dr. Gregory Berns, Emory University.
Hurricane Irma left a widespread trail of flooding and destruction throughout the Caribbean and Florida. What can concerned animal lovers do to help the dogs, cats, and other animals left homeless by the hurricane? Animal rescue and relief efforts are underway, led by both U.S. and international animal welfare organizations. Here’s an update on a few ongoing rescue operations.
The Humane Society International and the H3 Foundation are teaming up to help the animals of the British Virgin Islands that have been impacted by Hurricane Irma. An emergency veterinary team has already arrived on the island of Tortola, with more rescue and relief efforts scheduled to arrive in the BVI in the coming days. Click HERE to learn more.
The islands of Antigua and Barbuda were hard hit by Irma. While there are no animal shelters on Barbuda, Antigua humane organizations are helping the pets and farm animals of both islands. Check out the Facebook page of Paaws Antigua for the latest news and updates on their ongoing efforts to save the animals in both places.
The Florida Keys SPCA is on the front lines of helping the homeless pets of the Keys. Their facilities were damaged and all their resident shelter animals have been moved into foster homes. Not only will they need help with repairing shelter buildings on Key West and Marathon, they also expect an influx of many more displaced pets in the coming days and weeks.
South Florida’s wild animals need help, too! The South Florida Wildlife Center rescues and rehabilitates the wildlife of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Hurricanes can flood birds and animals out of nests and burrows, so wildlife rescue efforts are especially critical after storms.
A sweet dog named Flora was inconsolable after her best friend, a 20-year-old rescue cat named Dexter passed away. Her human family took in 4 foster kittens and Flora found some new kitty friends to help her get over the loss of Dexter. Watch the adorable video, courtesy of The Dodo, here: