When a dog is diagnosed with cancer there are many emotions that the family may experience. Most people report feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sadness, guilt, confusion, and frustration (amongst others). If you've experienced any of these feelings (or feel them now), then you're in good company and what you're feeling is common, according to a recent study.
A recent study reported in the British Medical Journal (Nakano et al. 2019) evaluated data from 99 owners of a pet with cancer and 94 owners of a healthy pet. The study was conducted in Japan, where pets are considered as family members, just as in the U.S. and Canada.
Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Japanese version of the CES-D (a self-report survey used for depression screening in the U.S.). Anxiety was assessed using the Japanese version of the State-Trait Anxiety-Inventory Form JYZ. The questionnaire measures anxiety as an emotional state (state anxiety) versus an individual characteristic (trait anxiety).
The study found that pet owners that had a recent diagnosis of cancer in their dog or cat (within the past 1-3 weeks) were significantly more likely to suffer from depression than owners of healthy pets. Among the owners of a pet with cancer, owners who were employed had significantly higher depression scores than those who were unemployed. This could be due to feelings of guilt that come with having to spend time at work instead of with a pet that has a poor prognosis.
In this study, 39.8% of owners reported symptoms of depression after a diagnosis of cancer in their pet. Interestingly, two previous studies found that 52.9% and 66.4% of individuals reported depression after a family member's recent cancer diagnosis.
The study found that the proportion of owners with high anxiety (39.8%) was significantly higher than in the owners of a healthy pet (0%). For owners that have a history of anxiety (trait anxiety), their anxiety increased further upon a diagnosis of cancer in their pet (not surprising really).
If you or someone that you know is struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety after a pet's cancer diagnosis, consider reaching out and getting help from a therapist. Don't dismiss these feelings. If you're experiencing anxiety or depression and get the help you need, you'll be in a much better place to make the difficult decisions needed for your dog with cancer.
Dr. Lori Cesario
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
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