Can Pets Be Victims of Munchausen's by Proxy?


Munchausen by Proxy or as it is also commonly known as Fabricated or induced illness (FII) is a rare form of child abuse.

Tue 23 Jan 2018

By Judy

Can Pets Be Victims of Munchausen's by Proxy?

Can Pets Be Victims of Munchausen's by Proxy?

Munchausen by Proxy or as it is also commonly known as Fabricated or induced illness (FII) is a rare form of child abuse. The condition occurs when either a parent or carer deliberately causes or exaggerates symptoms of illness in their child for attention. The condition is different from Munchausen's syndrome where an individual pretends to be ill, again to gain sympathy or attention.There’s very little information on how common the condition is as cases often go unnoticed and unreported.

So can pets be victims of Munchausen's by Proxy?

The simple answer is sadly yes. We spoke to an ex-dog groomer who shared her experience of one of her clients who displayed symptoms of this very complex condition. Our ex-groomer wishes to remain anonymous so we have called her Kate.

Kate's story

I worked as a dog groomer for over 20 years before retiring due to ill health. During that time I met hundreds of lovely dogs and their owners and loved my work. I had one lady client who owned 2 Labrador dogs. All seemed well at first and the dogs looked healthy and well cared for. I first came suspicious when the owner phoned to book another bath for both dogs just a week after their first grooming session. I explained that Labradors did not require weekly grooming sessions, and bathing too often could strip the coat of natural oils. In fact, I really only saw my Labrador clients once or twice a year and that would generally be after they had been in boarding kennels.

The owner explained that both dogs had rolled in fox poo and needed another bath. I agreed to bath both dogs again as her argument sounded genuine at the time. After the second bathing session I didn't expect to hear from her for a while, but I then got a phone call to say that both dogs needed their nails clipped as they were limping and the length of the nails were causing them distress. Both dogs came into the salon and their nails were a perfectly acceptable length as they did plenty of pavement walking. I literally took just the very tips off their already healthy nails and she went away happy. As I was clipping the nails she explained that she was taking both dogs to the vet due to upset tummies. I was slightly surprised as one of the Labradors had toileted at my salon and everything look normal. She also explained that both dogs were attending weekly weigh-ins at the vet, again both dogs looked very fit and a healthy weight. She also said that both dogs had problems with their anal glands and she was pushing for surgery to deal with the issue.

By coincidence her sister in law's dog was also a client at my salon, and it was when she came in with her dog she talked to me about her concerns. She explained that both dogs were continually taken to the vet for health issues she felt simply didn't exist. She also confided that her issues were leaving the family short of money. The other sad thing was that her obsession had led to her spending vast amounts of money on supplements and expensive specialist diets. Perhaps the strangest thing was that the family living room had large framed pictures of both dogs with the vet and also of them both in the waiting room. The sister-in-law asked if I could help as she was concerned about the welfare of the dogs and also the family's financial situation due to continual trips to the vet. Fortunately I had a good relationship with the vet in question and raised my concerns with him. I retired from my business shortly after and didn't hear anymore until I bumped into the sister-in-law in town one day. I enquired about the dogs and the owner. It appeared she become unwell and had to have a hysterectomy and a colostomy forcing her to rehome her beloved dogs to another member of the family. The sister-in-law confided that she felt both operations were unnecessary and she had exaggerated her symptoms. The last I heard was that the dogs both enjoyed a healthy and happy life in their new home although one of the Labradors passed away due to old age.

During my whole career, I had never witnessed this behaviour and wasn't even aware of this complex condition.I hope anyone concerned about a friend or relative seeks help so they cannot harm themselves or others in their care.

Summary

This is one of the saddest stories we have come across, but thankfully Munchausen's by Proxy and Munchausen's syndrome are very rare. NHS Choices have some excellent information on Munchausen's syndrome for those concerned about a friend or relative.

If you would like to share your experience please get in touch at hello@pet-owners.org