It is well known that caring for a seriously ill person is a constant and stressful effort to increase the risk of anxiety and depression. However, does it happen with the? A team of scientists from Kent State University in Ohio (USA) presents its conclusions in the journal Veterinary Record.
The ‘caregiver burden’, the person who takes care of another patient, exposes this to depression, social isolation and poorer quality of life in general. And although this point has been well studied in humans, rarely or never it has been addressed in the case of pet owners or even veterinarians.
Experts therefore examined the link between the caregiver burden of pet owners diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness and the risk of anxiety and depression on the part of humans, as well as veterinarians who support both animals and their owners during the course of the disease.
Owners are exposed to high stress
Scientists had the participation of 600 owners of dogs or cats, reducing this number to 119 owners whose pet had been diagnosed with a chronic disease, or that the animal was already in its terminal phase. They were paired with another 119 participants who had healthy cats or dogs (the control group).
Participants in both groups were matched by age, sex, and species of the mascot they had. They assessed stress levels, anxiety, depression, and quality of life of participants using a version of the Zarit Burden Interview, a questionnaire that aims to assess the burden of the caregiver among those who usually provide care for the elderly.
They found that owners of cats and dogs with chronic or terminal illnesses were, as expected, exposed to high levels of stress and exhibited symptoms of anxiety or depression. They also reported having a much lower quality of life. This detrimental effect also affected veterinarians.
“If pet owners have trouble separating their own anguish from medically necessary and adequate veterinary care, overuse of the service may occur. In addition, a client’s emotional distress may manifest as anger, as expressions of disillusionment or grievance, transferring effectively the burden of the customer to the supplier, in this case the veterinarian, “explain the authors.
Limits of the study
The authors acknowledge that the research has limitations, including the fact that the sample of participants was fairly homogeneous. Most of the pet owners recruited were “highly educated and of relatively high socioeconomic class.” They also note that to an unclear “whether the high load leads to a poorer psychosocial functioning.”
However, it is clear that this is a pioneering study in the context of veterinary care: “This inaugural exploration of caregiver burden within a veterinary environment is the first step in assessing the impact of veterinary care on clients, as well as the impact of the client’s emotional distress on veterinary well-being, “concludes Katherine J. Goldberg.