Munchausen by Proxy for pets

Although it is rare, veterinarians should be aware of Munchausen by Proxy since it can involve pets.  To understand Munchausen by Proxy it is necessary to understand the Munchausen disorder.

Munchausen is a mental illness that involves faking, producing or prolonging an illness. People who have this disorder will go to great lengths to hide it. It is important to note that this disorder does not include faking illnesses to get out of going to work, winning a lawsuit, and it is not the same as hypochondria where the person actually believes that he is sick.

Munchausen by Proxy is when the mentally ill person fakes illnesses in a child, elderly person or pet to gain sympathy. There is not much data on Munchausen by Proxy in pets, but by understanding how it manifests itself in humans; a veterinarian may be able to detect it when it involves pets.

Here are some of the characteristics of this disorder:

The illness does not fit the classical picture

The Illnesses do not fit well together or do not relate

The caregiver is too helpful

The caregiver is often involved in the medical field

Complications can arise from the injuries

There are dramatic stories about the medical problems

Frequent visits to the doctor/veterinarian

Vague symptoms

Inconsistent symptoms

Conditions that worsen with no apparent reason

Eagerness for testing and surgeries

Extensive knowledge of medical terms and conditions

Frequenting many different medical professionals

Made-up histories

Faking symptoms

Self-harm or inflicting harm

Preventing healing

The persons most likely to have Munchausen disorder are those who:

Experienced a childhood trauma including sexual, emotional or physical abuse

Had a serious illness in childhood

A relative with a serious illness

Poor self-esteem or identity

Loss of a loved one early in life

Unfulfilled desire to be in the medical profession

Work in the health care field

According to the statistics, more males and young or middle-aged people are most likely to have Munchausen disorder.

What should you do if you suspect that your client has this disorder? First try to diagnose the illness in the pet with tests to be certain that it is real. Go for a cure rather than treat symptoms.

Talk to your pet’s owners and being aware of the symptoms listed above.  Listen to your gut feelings if they tell you that something isn’t right.  Most people try to second guess themselves when their first reaction was correct. If you suspect that a client may have Munchausen by Proxy you can alert your local animal cruelty organization. Munchausen by Proxy is a form of cruelty. It is better to be safe than sorry.



4 thoughts on “Munchausen by Proxy for pets

    • Dear Jenny, That is an interesting thought and you could be right. But could it also be that some people are called to help needy pets the same as some people go into the medical field to help and heal people? Good thinking!


  1. My neighbor lady had been talking about her dog having liver cancer and being ‘on the verge of death’ for almost the whole 2 years I’ve lived next to her. She gets mad at my daughter’s dog for wanting to jump while playing with the neighbor’s dog, tells me to make sure not to leave out ‘treats’ because her dog needs a special diet, etc. etc. The dog is aggressive and acts like she is ready to attack, after watching me walk past her without barking a few minutes before. At one point, the neighbor said, “She (the dog) doesn’t like men.” (??) So about a week ago, I went for a walk, and watched as the neighbor was spraying Round-Up along the edge of her home, nearby where the dog gets let out, and would have access to! I cannot fathom (1) someone in their mid-late 40s not knowing any better than spraying a carcinogen where their dog is tied outside and (2) why she would spray in that area, especially. There are a few plants around her home’s edge, and spraying Round-Up kills everything, not just weeds! I’m wondering if she is getting a ‘thrill’ from the empathy for her sick dog, and how many times she has sprayed cancer-causing chemicals near her dog in the past! We both work a lot, but I desperately want to ask her, “Are you TRYING to hurt your dog?”


    • I am so sorry you have to deal with this. If you are on somewhat friendly terms with this neighbor print out a copy of the reports/articles about Roundup killing dogs and causing cancer in both people and animals and give it to her. Don’t say anything about the article, just tell her that you are concerned and thought she might like to read the latest information. Good luck.


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