Tag Archives: depression

The pet effect: FSU researchers find furry friends ease depression, loneliness after spousal loss

As Healthy Aging Month is underway this September, Florida State University researchers have found the companionship of a pet after the loss of a spouse can help reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in older adults.

The study, funded by The Gerontological Society of America and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and published in The Gerontologist, examined depressive symptoms and loneliness among people age 50 and older who experienced the loss of a spouse through death or divorce.

FSU researchers

FSU Researchers Natalie Sachs-Ericsson (L) and Dawn Carr (R). At center is Journey, a golden retriever certified as a pet therapy animal at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. (FSU Photography Services/Bruce Palmer)

“Increasingly, there’s evidence that our social support networks are really beneficial for maintaining our mental health following stressful events, despite the devastation we experience in later life when we experience major social losses,” said Dawn Carr, lead author and FSU associate professor of sociology. “I was interested in understanding alternatives to human networks for buffering the psychological consequences of spousal loss.”

Carr and her team compared individuals who experienced the loss of a spouse to those who stayed continuously married. Then they explored whether the effects of spousal loss differed for those who had a pet at the time of the death or divorce.

They found all individuals who lost their spouse experienced higher levels of depression. However, people without a pet experienced more significant increases in depressive symptoms and higher loneliness than those who had pets. In fact, those who had a pet and experienced the death or divorce of their spouse were no lonelier than older adults who didn’t experience one of those events.

“That’s an important and impressive finding,” Carr said. “Experiencing some depression after a loss is normal, but we usually are able to adjust over time to these losses. Persistent loneliness, on the other hand, is associated with greater incidents of mortality and faster onset of disability, which means it’s especially bad for your health. Our findings suggest that pets could help individuals avoid the negative consequences of loneliness after a loss.”

Carr’s team used data from a sample of older adults who participated in an experimental survey about human animal interaction as part of the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study in 2012, and linked the data with additional data collected between 2008 and 2014. They identified pet owners as those participants who either had a cat or a dog.

“In everyday life, having a cat or dog may not make you healthier,” Carr said. “But when facing a stressful event, we might lean on a pet for support. You can talk to your dog. They’re not going to tell you you’re a bad person, they’re just going to love you. Or you can pet your cat, and it’s calming.”

The researchers noted that additional studies should be conducted to explain why having pets helps maintain mental health better. However, Carr suggested part of it may relate to whether you feel like you matter to someone.

“Oftentimes, the relationship we have with our spouse is our most intimate, where our sense of self is really embedded in that relationship,” Carr said. “So, losing that sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that comes from that relationship can be really devastating. A pet might help offset some of those feelings. It makes sense to think, ‘Well at least this pet still needs me. I can take care of it. I can love it and it appreciates me.’ That ability to give back and give love is really pretty powerful.”

The findings have potential consequences for social policies. For instance, it may be beneficial to include companion animals in the treatment of people residing in senior-living facilities, or reducing barriers to pet ownership in such settings.

Source:  Florida State University News

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Owners of seriously ill pets at risk of stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms

Owners of seriously or terminally ill pets are more likely to suffer with stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, compared with owners of healthy animals, finds a study published by Veterinary Record.

old dog

Caring for a sick or dying pet can be a serious emotional burden. Credit: © tuaindeed / Fotolia

This ‘caregiver burden’ may also lead to increased veterinarian stress, say the authors.

Research on human caregiving describes ‘caregiver burden’ as a response to problems and challenges encountered while providing informal care for a sick family member. But little is known about the impact of caregiver burden on owners of animals with chronic or terminal diseases – and the veterinarians who care for them.

So a team of researchers, led by Mary Beth Spitznagel at Kent State University in Ohio, set out to assess caregiver burden and psychosocial function in 238 owners of a dog or cat.

They compared 119 owners of an animal diagnosed with a chronic or terminal disease with 119 healthy controls blindly matched for owner age and sex and animal species.

Symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression were measured using recognised scales, and quality of life was assessed by questionnaire. Owners’ demographic information was also recorded.

Results showed greater burden, stress and clinically meaningful symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of animals with chronic or terminal disease. Higher burden was also related to poorer psychosocial functioning.

The authors outline some study limitations which could have introduced bias, but they say their findings “may help veterinarians understand and more effectively handle client distress in the context of managing the challenges of sick companion animal caregiving.”

And they suggest that future research is needed to better understand risks for caregiver burden in the client, how this might be reduced, and how it impacts veterinarian wellbeing.

In a linked commentary, Katherine Goldberg calls for improved training for veterinarians around provision of long term care for serious illness. This includes tailoring treatment plans to client preferences, recognising when clients are distressed, and partnering with mental health professionals to provide support.

“This inaugural exploration of caregiver burden within a veterinary setting is the first step in assessing the impact of veterinary caregiving on clients, as well as the impact of client emotional distress on veterinarian wellbeing,” writes Goldberg. “It is my hope that with continued dialogue, we will continue to build the literature in these essential areas.”

Source:  BMJ press release

Reporting for Duty – book review

I have just finished reading Reporting for Duty, a coffee table book written by Tracy Libby.  This book is presented well, with small vignettes interspersed with text, photos, and profiles of 15 veterans and their assistance dogs.

Reporting for duty by Tracy Libby

The book’s first chapter explains  PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, a term that didn’t come into use until after the Vietnam War), TBI (traumatic brain injury), and MST (military sexual trauma) – pretty gut-wrenching content.

The chapters that follow include coverage of therapy dogs in history, prison puppy programs and combat and operational stress-control dogs.  The final chapter is about how dogs read us, with references to the various research findings about canine cognition and the human-animal bond (a favourite subject of mine).

There are many photographs in this book, which are lovingly presented.  It provides a good selection of case studies – veterans and their dogs – with veterans from different wars and each requiring different levels of assistance and support.

But it is the book’s Foreward that will remain with me for some time.  Written by Karen D Jeffries (retired Commander in the US Navy, and co-founder of Veterans Moving Forward, Inc – a charity which will benefit from some of the proceeds of sales), the Foreward contains some sobering statistics and facts:

  • The US Veteran’s Administration is unable to meet the needs of the disabled veteran population
  • More that 540,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD or depression (or both)
  • More than 260,000 veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries
  • Even if all of the service dog organisations currently operating in the United States increased their annual output by a factor of 100, the mental health challenges of veterans would still not be met
  • The present policy of the Veteran’s Administration is to provide service dogs only to veterans with visual or hearing impairment or some selected mobility challenges – a small sub-set of the range of uses and support that can be given by trained dogs

This is a book that is best enjoyed in hard copy – flick through the photos and thank heaven for the people who volunteer, fund raise, and train assistance dogs.

My copy of the Reporting for Duty was provided free-of-charge by the book’s publisher.  I will cherish it as part of my dog book collection.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

 

Homeless youth with pets

Homeless youth can benefit from owning pets but not without a few challenges, according to a new study from the University of Guelph.

Led by researchers from the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), the team found that homeless youth with pets are less likely to engage in potentially harmful behaviour, more likely to open up to veterinarians about their personal challenges and generally less depressed.

Homeless youth

(Photo courtesy Community Veterinary Outreach)

However, the team found that pets can make it difficult for their owners to obtain social services.

The study was published today in the journal Anthrozoӧs. 

Its findings mirror what researchers had been hearing anecdotally, said Prof. Jason Coe, Population Medicine.

“Those homeless youth with pets don’t want to risk incarceration or anything that would prevent them from being with their pets, so they are less likely to abuse alcohol or use hard drugs,” said Coe. He studies the human-animal bond and communication in veterinary care.

“We also found those without pets are three times more likely to be depressed, though we have not yet determined if this is directly relatable to having a pet.”

Among major challenges, he said, “Many shelters do not allow pets, so these youth may be limited in where they can sleep.”

Many youth are very open to discussing their struggles and issues with veterinarians, said lead author Michelle Lem, an OVC graduate.

She is the founder and director of Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO), a volunteer group providing mobile veterinary services to homeless people in Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph and Ottawa.

“We’re able to collaborate with public health and social workers as they attempt to reach these marginalized people, essentially using the human-animal bond and veterinary care as a gateway to provide accessible social support and healthcare,” Lem said.

“So many of these youth have lost trust in people, and the animal gives them unconditional love. They will do anything for their pets, which means they are less likely to commit potentially harmful acts, but also face more challenges with accessing housing, healthcare or addiction treatment services.”

Prof. Bill O’Grady, Sociology and Anthropology, studies youth homelessness and helped design the study.

Calling for pet-friendly shelters, he said “many homeless youth are prohibited from using services offered by the shelter system because they have pets, particularly dogs. There is an opportunity here to use this information when we’re developing services and plans for young people.”

Source:  University of Guelph media release

Izzy & Lenore – book review

Izzy and Lenore by Jon Katz

Over this Easter weekend, I have finished reading Izzy & Lenore, another great dog book by Jon Katz.

Although Katz’s earlier books talk about his life establishing Bedlam Farm in upstate New York,  and his menagerie of animals, this book gives us some depth into who Jon Katz is as a person, and he’s honest about his own battle with depression.

Izzy is a Border Collie that is rescued by Katz and he’s intelligent, with the seeming ability to connect to people in all circumstances.  This dog seems to have an infinite amount of compassion, despite being abandoned by his previous owners.  Katz and Izzy become trained as hospice volunteers and so throughout the book, there are tales of hospice cases that the two become involved in.  If you have ever had a loved one experience a terminal illness, dealt with the effects of old age and infirmity, these stories will resonate with you.

Lenore is a congenial Labrador puppy who joins the pack.

In this book, Katz faces his own battle with depression and he explains some of the dark secrets that he and his sister share.

I recommend this book, as I have all the others I have read by Jon Katz.  I wish I had his talent for storytelling and – perhaps best of all – unlike previous stories of Bedlam Farm, no dogs die during the course of this story.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

Doctors believe in the health benefits of pet ownership

DogDoctor

The Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation has released the findings of a survey revealing the views of the family physician (also known as the GP) on the benefits of pets to health.

An online panel survey of 1,000 family doctors and general practitioners explored the doctors’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior regarding the human health benefits of pets.  The 28-question survey was conducted in August 2014 with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.   The physicians in the survey had a median of 18 years in professional practice.

Key findings included:

  • 69% of doctors have worked with animals in a hospital, medical center or medical practice to assist patient treatment
  • 88% believe that interaction with pets improves a patient’s physical condition
  • 97% believe that interaction with pets improves mental health condition
  • 78% found that interaction with animals helped to improve the relationships of patients with staff
  • 97% of doctors reported that they believe there were health benefits resulting from pet ownership
  • 75% of doctors said they saw health improve in one or more patients as a result of pet ownership

The survey also revealed that while 69% of doctors at least occasionally discussed the health benefits of pets with patients, 56% identified ‘time constraints’ as the largest barrier to having these discussions.

“The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative funds research on the evidence-based health benefits on human-animal interaction, and this survey demonstrates that we are on the right track” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman.

“HABRI hopes that this survey will help break down the barriers and get more doctors and their patients talking about the important, scientifically-validated health benefits of pets.”

Source:  HABRI media release

Signs of anxiety in your dog

Earlier this week, I took a call from a dog owner interested in what dog massage could do to assist her dog in managing its anxiety.   As we talked, I could see that the dog was manifesting some of the typical signs of anxiety.  These include:

  • excessive panting
  • restlessness
  • a change to elimination habits
  • self-mutilation, often leading to problems such as lick granuloma
  • depression
  • change in personality, sometimes leading to aggression when the dog is highly stressed
  • trembling
  • reduction in coat condition, and general signs of being unwell

Our dogs often show similar symptoms to us when major stress is an issue; however they can’t talk about it like we can.   It is up to us as dog owners to pick up on the changes in our dogs and be open minded to figure out the causes.

Luckily, this owner knows what started the problem and so we are already halfway there to designing a treatment regime for her dog.

Massage therapy is useful for dogs suffering from anxiety because I can help calm the nervous system, giving the dog a ‘time out.’  I will also show dog owners useful acupressure points to assist with calming and we will work together on a regime that helps the dog to overcome its fears.  Anxiety problems rarely develop overnight, and so it takes a bit of time to help the dog recover.

For acute conditions of stress and anxiety, I’ve previously reviewed D.A.P.  Read that item here.