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
Conditions that worsen with no apparent reason
Eagerness for testing and surgeries
Extensive knowledge of medical terms and conditions
Frequenting many different medical professionals
Self-harm or inflicting harm
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.