Study: Pet Owners Prone To Suffer Depression When Pets Are Sick

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
It’s no secret that when our pets are not well, we worry about them. Now new research shows that when our pets are not well or terminally ill, we are also at risk for anxiety, stress, and depression.

When I was told my dog had osteosarcoma, and we only had a few months left with her, I was heartbroken. I’m talking sick to my stomach, lost several pounds, moped-for-days-and-days heartbroken. I felt like a heavy weight was on me, and I was just waiting for the hard day I knew was looming. I even had my doctor suggest I take something for anxiety because they were so worried about my weight loss. When our pets suffer, we suffer with them.

Related: How To Prepare For Your Dog’s Journey Across The Rainbow Bridge

Now science supports that, as a new study from Kent State University in Ohio looked at the mental health status of 119 pet owners who had animals that were diagnosed with a chronic or terminal condition and compared it to the mental health condition of 119 pet owners who had healthy pets. The researchers looked for the participants through social media, and gave questionnaires that looked at the psychosocial health of pet owners–specifically looking for stress levels and anxiety or depression.

They found that pet owners with sick pets were more stressed and had higher anxiety levels and depression than pet owners who had healthy pets. More, those pet owners with sick pets also indicated they were suffering from lower qualities of life and satisfaction in their day-to-day life–affecting their moods, health and relationships in and out of work.

Dr. Katherine J. Goldberg is a professor of veterinary medicine and palliative care at Cornell University. In an editorial discussing the research, she said that this also has a substantial impact on the mental health of people who work in veterinary medicine as well. She suggested that the greatest stressors for vets are typically when it comes to pet owners as they walk down these paths with their unhealthy pets. It’s a great emotional toll on vets to take care of not only the animals, but their owners as well in times of serious illness or terminal situations.

Related: Woman Gives Dying Dog a Taste of Family in His Last Days

Dr. Goldberg believes that because this emotional toll is so heavy, more veterinary health programs should also include education on how to have conversations with pet owners when these sad situations arise. It’s not an easy task to discuss end-of-life care for humans, but at least there is more and more focus on doing so. Dr. Goldberg says there really is no formal teaching about how vets can approach these conversations with their clients’ humans.

So, should you find out that your furry family member is sick, remember to take care of yourself as well. Much like the oxygen mask on a plane example, you’re no good to anyone if you’re not okay. Your pet will need you in those last days, and it’s okay to make sure you’re emotionally up for the task.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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