Caregiver burden in owners of a sick companion animal: a cross-sectional observational study
Spitznagel, M.B. et al. (2017) Caregiver burden in owners of a sick companion animal: a cross–sectional observational study. Veterinary Record, 181(12), pp. 321
Clients who provide care for a companion animal with a protracted illness may experience ‘caregiver burden’. In human literature, caregiver burden has been linked to stress, depression and anxiety which can lead to anger and greater levels of healthcare utilisation.
The aim of this study was to examine caregiver burden in owners of companion animals with chronic or terminal disease and to assess whether this correlated with higher levels of stress, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A total of 238 dog or cat owners were enrolled into the study; 119 owners of an animal with chronic or terminal disease and 119 healthy controls matched for animal species, and human sex and age. The breakdown of animals was 174 dogs and 58 cats evenly divided between cases and controls.
The study used a variety of assessment methods that have been used to assess human caregiving relationships, as well as a companion animal specific measure which focused on owner adherence to a prescribed veterinary regimen. The results showed that owners of companion animals with a chronic or terminal illness experience greater stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety and poorer quality of life than owners with healthy animals. Recognising the burden of caring for a sick pet may help veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses maintain successful client relationships.
The authors argue that client mental health may have an impact on veterinary professionals’ occupational stress, something that is worthy of future research.
Limitations of the study included the recruitment of the participants through social media rather than veterinary clinics and the inclusion of a large number of highly educated participants from high socioeconomic classes. Thus, the participants were not necessarily representative of general practice clientele.
Knowledge and understanding of caregiver burden may help the veterinary professional better handle communications with owners of pets with a chronic or terminal illness. This paper gives a valuable introduction to the topic and serves as a useful reminder that the caregiver burden is an important consideration when discussing treatment options for chronically or terminally ill companion animals.
Future research is needed on the impact of caregiver burden on veterinary professional stress. Communication skills training for veterinary professionals with a specific focus on dealing with caregiver burden would also be useful.