Dear readers: According to a Feb. 13 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention morbidity and mortality report, “Veterinarians are believed to be at increased risk for suicide compared with the general population.”
Researchers sent out a questionnaire that “asked respondents about their experiences with depression and suicidal behavior, and included standardized questions from the Kessler-6 psychological distress scale that assesses for the presence of serious mental illness. . . . Approximately 6.8 [percent] of male and 10.9 [percent] of female respondents were characterized as having serious psychological distress . . . compared with 3.5 [percent] of male and 4.4 [percent] of female U.S. adults, respectively.”
That the study found almost one in 10 U.S. veterinarians might suffer from serious psychological distress and more than one in 6 might have experienced suicidal thoughts since graduation makes me deeply concerned and has me wondering why.
The challenges of diagnosing, treating and preventing animal maladies, coupled with financial constraints in a culture with a schizoid attitude toward animals (ranging from treating them as family members to mere commodities), might be overwhelming at times.
It is also frustrating seeing the same conditions day after day, with no significant advances in the prevention of illness and suffering.
Above all, I believe that veterinarians are generally more empathetic toward animals than most of the general population. They, along with others on the front lines of animal protection, take the brunt of society’s use and abuse of animals.
One colleague wrote to me: “We have a schizophrenic profession. One minute we are battling for a pet’s life, and then in an instant, the next owner elects euthanasia. This can twist anyone’s mind inside out. Caregiver burnout is very prevalent in the vet profession, too. Long hours and low economic returns make it challenging to get a vacation to recharge.”
This burden of empathy for animals used and abused in society today, combined with veterinarians’ deeper understanding of how their animal patients can suffer, calls for greater public recognition and respect for the many contributions this profession provides for the good of animals.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I am in a rough situation. I have a smart dog (aren’t they all?) that insists on barking when she smells one particular dog she dislikes intensely from two floors above.
Her sense of smell is amazing. She is a Havanese mix. She now barks two or three times a day. She seems bored, but she won’t play with other dogs, only with humans. She is healthy and very intuitive.
I am 80 years old and cannot run with her. I live in a condo whose 50-year-old rules do not permit pets. Half of the building has cats; there are roughly five dogs that got grandfathered in. There are 172 units.
I have tried to work with a behaviorist from a dog shelter, who gave me some exercises for her. When she barks, she comes to me for a treat and then stops. I think this exercise worked for a bit, but it seemed to teach quite the opposite of the intent.
When she knows a dog, she doesn’t bark, except in this one case. We try to keep the two dogs separate. We have a dog park nearby, and I keep her leashed because she doesn’t know how to play. My husband takes her off the leash when he walks her in the park.
DF: I am surprised that the behaviorist did not suggest that you try one of a variety of humane and variously effective anti-bark collars.
Your behaviorist set up a food protocol that encouraged barking by rewarding your dog with a treat every time she barked! So do seek a second opinion on this issue, possibly a reliable referral from your dog’s veterinarian.
Dear Dr. Fox:
As to the question posed in a recent column — “Where should a sleeping dog lie?” — I have an answer.
I am 85 and have never lived more than six months without a dog. All of them have been rescue animals (many before there were even rescue groups), and, with no exceptions, I have had the privilege of sleeping in bed with each one. In fact, on those rare occasions when I didn’t have a dog right next to me in bed, I never slept as well as when a dog was glued to my side.
I am proud that both of our daughters have the same love of animals. Our youngest daughter made a profound observation awhile back: Soren (our current dog, named for the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) weighs 40 pounds when he’s awake, but when he’s asleep, he weighs more like 240 pounds. They are like rocks when they are comfortably asleep beside you.
I will forever marvel at the folks who have dogs but fail to regard them as members of the family. In our case, our precious dog of the moment is the most important part of our family: always there for us, asking nothing but always giving love. They epitomize the agape form of love — the unconditional kind.
DF: Yes, indeed: agape! Dogs are pack animals. They feel secure when they sleep together. When we take them into our homes, their human family is their surrogate pack. So, whenever possible, it is quite natural to allow the dog to sleep with a family member. Couples who sleep together might need a larger bed.
The only caveat is that the dog must have no fleas, ticks or sarcoptic mange.
Regular close contact with a dog in the home (not necessarily in the bed) helps children ward off allergies and infections.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My little female cat, Minnie, who is 2, has had chronic rhinitis since she was born. We found her in our woods when she was about 3 months old, and we took her to the vet for spaying.
The vet wanted to euthanize her. She said there was no cure. We surely did not do that. Three vets later, the only thing we’ve found that helps is a round of antibiotics for about three weeks. We don’t do that often, because she can’t live on antibiotics.
She has a good appetite and maintains a good weight. She is better in warm weather but is still quite miserable with this problem, and it breaks my heart. It seems that nothing can be done for her.
C.H., Rhinebeck, N.Y.
DF: I am glad you chose not to go with the veterinarian’s advice to euthanize her and instead gave the animal a chance. I hope she was not spayed at that time, being so ill. No doubt exposure and poor nutrition crippled her immune system, allowing for the upper respiratory and sinus infection to take hold.
Periodic treatment with antibiotics does help cats with chronic sinusitis. In cats with a different history, other causes of this condition include dental disease with spread of bacteria from the tooth sockets into the sinuses. In other cases, a food allergy or underlying viral infection, such as herpes or feline AIDS, is the cause.
Irrigating the sinuses under a light, general anesthetic might help.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.