In the Literature
Campigli M, Strizzolo G, Furlanello T, Uccheddu S. Pet owners' feedback on psychological support service in an Italian veterinary hospital. Acta Vet Hung. 2022. doi:10.1556/004.2022.00011
The Research …
Caregiver burden is the experience of anticipatory or disenfranchised grief associated with caring for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member; may include emotions of anxiety, sadness, and anger; and can directly impact caregiver well-being. Most pet owners consider their pets as family members, and veterinary professionals are responsible for serving both pets and their owners.1 Clinicians, however, are generally not professionally trained to help those experiencing caregiver burden.
This study explored owners’ self-reported feelings associated with their pet’s care and prognosis, as well as interest in psychological support provided by clinic staff. The study included open-ended interviews and surveys of 161 female and 95 male owners (n = 256); of which, 76.9% were dog owners, 12.5% were cat owners, and 10.6% owned dogs and cats. Female respondents demonstrated a higher frequency of negative feelings, with a positive correlation between feelings and the desire for psychological support; however, they preferred to manage their emotions independently or with peers and family.
Qualitative feedback in this study suggests some owners seek emotional support from their clinicians; however, veterinary training does not include assessment, intervention, or treatment planning for human suffering, and supporting clients is not typically within a clinician’s skill set or scope of practice.
Embedded veterinary social workers are credentialed mental health clinicians trained to support veterinary professionals and help clients process challenges, make difficult decisions, and overcome caregiver burden.2 Providing consistent psychological support for veterinary staff and clients normalizes the emotional experience and increases overall access to psychological care.3 The demand for veterinary social workers demonstrates that neither the mental health field nor the veterinary medical field are meeting the need for mental health services.4
... The Takeaways
Key pearls to put into practice:
Caregiver burden is the experience of anticipatory or disenfranchised grief associated with patient care and can be experienced by both pet owners and veterinary staff.
Veterinary social workers are trained to support veterinary professionals and their human clients coping with challenging cases, difficult decisions, and caregiver burden.
Clinicians should consider integrating veterinary social workers into their team, as providing support in the veterinary clinic normalizes the emotional experience and increases overall access to psychological care.
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