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Exploring caregiver burden within a veterinary setting
  1. Katherine J. Goldberg, DVM1
  1. 1WholeAnimalVeterinary Geriatrics & Hospice Services, Ithaca, New York, USA
  1. E-mail for correspondence: kgoldberg{at}

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Few people in contemporary society would consider providing 24-hour care for our ailing family members without professional help. Yet, this is what we expect of ourselves for our pets and then feel guilty when we struggle or cannot do it at all. On the human side of health care, we have options when people require support beyond what can reasonably or safely be provided at home by family members – assisted living facilities, in-home health care aides, visiting nurse associations, memory care centres and, for better or worse, nursing homes. I hear myself saying, ‘You are the assisted living facility’ to my clients – caregivers of seriously and terminally ill pets – on a regular basis. Often this framing helps to provide clients with perspective around why daily life with their pet feels so hard.

In a paper summarised in this week’s Veterinary Record, Spitznagel and others1 have produced a pivotal contribution to the veterinary literature, precisely because the experience of caring for a seriously ill pet has become a nearly universal experience for those who share their lives with animals. Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and the broader evolution of the relationships that we share with companion animals, it is likely that we will actively participate in the care of our pets at the end of their lives. Examination of caregiver burden in the context of veterinary patients is critical for understanding both client and veterinarian roles and responsibilities in the treatment of seriously and terminally ill pets. Furthermore, as Spitznagel and others address so adeptly, ‘Clients experiencing significant caregiver burden may thus exacerbate occupational stressors of the veterinarian’. The authors are pioneering in this inquiry regarding a possible relationship between client-related stressors and veterinarian wellbeing. Additional research is necessary, but this study certainly has potential …

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