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Predicting caregiver burden in general veterinary clients: Contribution of companion animal clinical signs and problem behaviors

Spitznagel, M.B., Jacobson, D.M., Cox, M.D., Carlson, M.D.
The veterinary journal 2018 v.236 pp. 23-30
animal behavior, behavior problems, caregivers, cats, dogs, human behavior, models, pain, pet ownership, pets, prediction, risk factors, social support, urination, veterinarians, veterinary clinics, veterinary services
Caregiver burden, found in many clients with a chronically or terminally ill companion animal, has been linked to poorer psychosocial function in the client and greater utilization of non-billable veterinary services. To reduce client caregiver burden, its determinants must first be identified. This study examined if companion animal clinical signs and problem behaviors predict veterinary client burden within broader client- and patient-based risk factor models. Data were collected in two phases. Phase 1 included 238 companion animal owners, including those with a sick companion animal (n=119) and matched healthy controls (n=119) recruited online. Phase 2 was comprised of 602 small animal general veterinary hospital clients (n=95 with a sick dog or cat). Participants completed cross-sectional online assessments of caregiver burden, psychosocial resources (social support, active coping, self-mastery), and an item pool of companion animal clinical signs and problem behaviors.Several signs/behaviors correlated with burden, most prominently: weakness, appearing sad/depressed or anxious, appearing to have pain/discomfort, change in personality, frequent urination, and excessive sleeping/lethargy. Within patient-based risk factors, caregiver burden was predicted by frequency of the companion animal’s signs/behaviors (P<.01). Within client-based factors, potentially modifiable factors of client reaction to the animal’s signs/behaviors (P=.01), and client sense of control (P<.04) predicted burden. Understanding burden may enhance veterinarian-client communication, and is important due to potential downstream effects of client burden, such as higher workload for the veterinarian. Supporting the client’s sense of control may help alleviate burden when amelioration of the companion animal’s presentation is not feasible.