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Scratching and Stressing




If you live with a dog, you’ve heard these sounds. If you live with a dog with skin disease, you’ve had days and nights when you thought they would never stop.

Owning a pet with skin disease can be difficult. Beyond the licking, chewing, and scratching, skin rages red and hot spots appear seemingly out of nowhere. You worry about hair loss and infection. Visits to the veterinarian are frequent, maybe the dermatologist, too. Costs of allergy testing and special diets add up. Medicated shampoos, pills and injections… the list goes on.

It takes effort to quiet an itchy dog’s skin. Managing skin disease requires a little trial-and-error and a lot of dedication. Not surprisingly, our most recent study, published in Veterinary Dermatology, showed that owners of a dog with skin disease are stressed out!

In this study, we compared caregiver burden (the strain encountered while managing a loved one’s illness) in 152 owners of dogs with a skin disease to 206 owners of a healthy dog. We found much greater caregiver burden in those whose dog was diagnosed with skin disease. Interestingly, differences were driven by a small subgroup of owners who reported poor control of their dog’s skin disease. Owners who described good skin disease control showed no differences in caregiver burden compared to those with a healthy dog, suggesting there is a light at the end of the tunnel!


Pet owners who are feeling stressed might be interested to know that our research is identifying ways to decrease pet caregiver burden. Our previous work showed that sense of control is one of the most important contributors to pet caregiver burden.

So if you've lost that sense of control, how can you regain it? Well, we know that knowledge is power. Remember that a lot of bad information exists on the internet, and ask your veterinarian if there are online resources that they trust. When you feel overwhelmed, give yourself the space to examine what you can control. Remind yourself that even when you are taking small steps, you are still moving forward. You might also want to read our prior blog post--“What Can We Do About Pet Caregiver Burden?

Veterinarians working with a client whose pet has skin disease may find it helpful to keep the whole picture in mind. It might be clear when a client is worried about their pet and feeling frustrated—but there is a good chance that person is facing financial burden, experiencing strained relationships, or feeling stretched for time due to their pet’s disease, as well. Understanding what a client is going through can help you appreciate their experience, and gives you some context for the decisions they make.

Managing a pet’s skin disease isn’t easy, but it is possible. Work closely with your veterinarian or dermatologist to optimize skin disease control, and stay focused on that light at end of the tunnel. Your pet will feel better, and you will, too.~

The information offered on this website does not constitute psychological or veterinary medical advice. Please consult with an appropriate professional who can make recommendations for your specific situation.

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