Caregiver burden in owners of a sick companion animal: a cross-sectional observational study

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Abstract

Much recent work has focused on occupational stress in veterinary medicine, although little is known about the possible contribution of client-based factors. Clients providing care for a companion animal with protracted illness are likely to experience ‘caregiver burden’ and reduced psychosocial functioning, which may ultimately lead to increased veterinarian stress. This cross-sectional observational study assessed caregiver burden and psychosocial function in 238 owners of a dog or cat, comparing owners of an animal with chronic or terminal diseases (n=119) with healthy controls blindly matched for owner age/sex and animal species (n=119). Results showed greater burden, stress and symptoms of depression/anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of companion animals with chronic or terminal disease (p<0.001 for all). Higher burden was correlated with reduced psychosocial function (p<0.001 for all). Owners of a sick companion animal exhibit elevated caregiver burden, which is linked to poorer psychosocial functioning. This knowledge may help veterinarians understand and more effectively handle client distress in the context of managing the challenges of sick companion animal caregiving. Future work is needed to determine whether clients with this presentation impact veterinarian stress and how burden in this population might be reduced.

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