Owners of sick dogs more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety

Study finds ‘caregiver burden’ also applies to animal owners

They say a dog and its owner look alike and now, according to new veterinary research, it appears there are similarities in their health too.

Owners of seriously or terminally ill pets are more likely to suffer from stress, depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, compared to owners of healthy animals, a study published by the Veterinary Record journal has found.

Known as “caregiver burden”, such a response to problems and challenges encountered while providing informal care for a sick family member is well known.

However, little had been understood about the equivalent among owners of animals, or indeed of the vets who care for them.


A team of researchers at Kent State University in Ohio examined the psychosocial function in 238 owners of dogs and cats.

The study 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 for animal species.

It measured symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and quality of life as well as demographic information relating to the owners.

Their results showed greater burden, stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of animals with diseases.

“This inaugural exploration of caregiver burden within a veterinary setting is the first step in assessing the impact of veterinary care-giving on clients, as well as the impact of client emotional distress on veterinarian wellbeing,” a commentary on the research stated.

Meanwhile, a separate animal study published in the same journal has found that dogs travelling to continental Europe are increasingly at risk of picking up a parasitic worm.

Both animals and people should also be considered at risk of infection when travelling to areas where the parasite is now endemic.

“Thelazia callipaeda” is found in a species of fruit fly known to be present in the UK. Infected animals show a variety of symptoms in their eyes where adult worms live, from mild conjunctivitis to severe corneal ulceration which, if untreated, can lead to blindness.

A research team at the University of Liverpool analysed three cases involving UK dogs which had recently travelled to Romania, Italy and France.

All three dogs received treatment and made a full recovery. However, the authors warn that given the relatively free and regular movement of dogs between the UK and Europe, and the importation from rescue charities, the issue poses a significant threat to the canine population.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times