Injuring Your Cat To Get Attention

Munchausen by proxy involving pets

Probably every experienced veterinarian in the UK has seen a companion animal that has been injured by the person who has brought the animal to the clinic – the person who stands before the vet in the consulting room. The perpetrator is there in front of him. Most likely the vet has no idea. Sometimes he might have a suspicion. Other times the “pet’s owner” may fabricate an illness that their companion animal is suffering from and then brought the animal to their vet for a cure. The vet may treat the animal on what he hears when there is no need to.

This is about a well known psychological illness that concerns babies but which also affects companion animals: Munchausen syndrome or Munchausen by proxy. You have probably read about it in the newspapers when babies are concerned. The usual scenario is a mother who hurts her baby thereby drawing attention to herself and receiving sympathy.

An example of Munchausen by proxy in relation to cats concerned two kittens: Angel and Princes. They were taken to a vet’s surgery in Essex with serious injuries:

  • Angel: broken tail and front leg;
  • Princess: head wounds and front paw injury.

In relation to Angel and Princess, veterinary experts giving evidence in an RSPCA prosecution said that there were concerns that the “pattern” of the injuries coupled with the request for treatment indicated “induced illness” or….the owner did it, in plain language. The kittens were rehomed. The RSPCA reported on this case in their annual report on 2011 prosecutions.

One worry is that most, or at least a good percentage of, veterinarians appear to be unaware of Munchausen by proxy in relation to animals. That may extent to most people. Another worry is that the people who suffer from this psychological condition are extremely devious. It can be very difficult to be certain about what is going on. You can imagine how tricky it would be for a vet to question a client that he suspects has injured her cat just for the sake of attracting attention to herself. That difficulty in itself must be a major barrier to weeding out the cases of animals injured under these circumstances.

Munchausen by proxy involving pets is another example of how vulnerable the companion animal is when living with people. People can be quite dangerous to a “pet” even when they supposedly love them.

We don’t know how many cases there are. There are probably many more than people believe there are. The cases that come to light are probably the tip of the iceberg.


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Injuring Your Cat To Get Attention — 7 Comments

  1. I hadn’t heard of this before, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s yet another extension of warped human nature and evidence of how damaged and dysfunctional homo sapiens are..

    I think the onus is on vets to question the owners about injuries, and keep questioning, allowing the owner to trip themselves up, which I believe they will when allowed to repeat their version of events several times.

    I would guess that the reward for these people is to be seen as a caring owner. How that mind set is turned around I have no idea.

    People who are so damaged as to cause injury to another living being to gain attention for their own pain or gain, really need to keep away from all animals. But what do we do with the people who are diagnosed with this syndrome? How is it treated? Can it be treated?

    People don’t like silence, guilt does not like silence.

    • …warped human nature and evidence of how damaged and dysfunctional homo sapiens are

      Yes, the more I know humans the more I think they are warped. Help me someone! It is not good to think that.

      This is a very difficult area for anyone. Humans can be very devious.

      We don’t know how big a problem it is but like child abuse and other deviant behavior it is probably worse than we imagine.

  2. This is awful. I expect it’s very hard for vets to spot injuries caused to clients pets on purpose.
    If just one of the cats, Angel or Princess, had been taken in injured like that the vet might not have been suspicious.
    The ways people use and abuse animals seems to be endless and yes Michael I agree, I’m sure a lot is hidden, especially of cats.

  3. I have never thought about this, I knew about people doing it to children but never associated it with animals, how much lower can the human race get than to deliberately injure an animal for attention. I hope this is included in vets training as it must be for doctors.

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