Assessing caregiver burden in owners of sick companion animals

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caregiver burden
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Owners of seriously or terminally ill pets are more likely to suffer from stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, compared with owners of healthy animals, a US study has found.

A team of researchers from Kent State University, Ohio, assessed ‘caregiver burden’—a response to problems and challenges encountered while providing informal care for a sick family member—and psychosocial function in 238 owners of a dog or cat.

They compared 119 owners of an animal diagnosed with a chronic or terminal disease with 119 healthy controls blindly matched for owner age and sex and animal species.

Symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression were measured using recognised scales, and quality of life was assessed by questionnaire. Owners’ demographic information was also recorded.

Results showed greater burden, stress and clinically meaningful symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of animals with chronic or terminal disease. Higher burden was also related to poorer psychosocial functioning.

The authors who recently published a paper in Veterinary Record said their findings “may help veterinarians understand and more effectively handle client distress in the context of managing the challenges of sick companion animal caregiving”.

But they added that future research is needed to better understand risks for caregiver burden in the client, how this might be reduced, and how it impacts veterinarian wellbeing.

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