How your pet’s illness could put your mental health at risk


Story highlights

Caring for an ailing pet could put your own mental health at risk, says a new paper

Experts offer strategies that might help alleviate pet caregiver burden

CNN —  

It was a difficult season of loss for Sean Owens’ family.

Shortly after his father died of kidney cancer in 2010, his mother’s beloved black Labrador retriever mix – Mary Margaret, or Maggie – was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a rapidly growing tumor of the blood vessels. Maggie had a history of health problems, and Owens’ mother was distraught.

“That’s not an uncommon scenario in veterinary medicine,” said Owens, veterinarian and professor of clinical pathology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

“If you ask most veterinarians the hardest thing they do, it’s telling the senior man or woman that comes in, having just lost a significant other or spouse or partner, that now their animal, their dog or cat or whatever their loved one is, now has a terrible disease as well,” he said. “Those conversations … they just tear the heart out of you.”

In the months leading up to his father’s death and Maggie’s diagnosis, Owens said, his mother was the primary caregiver for both her husband and her dog. Watching the emotional toll that caregiving took on her was difficult.