Taking on the role of a caretaker is always a challenge. It’s not one you might naturally be cut out for, and it’s important to remember that there is no shame in this. When a loved one becomes sick, and you must devote additional energy to taking care of them, you may find that the strain becomes too much. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love them deeply, it’s the simple fact that you are human, and you have limits.
Still, while the realities of caregiver burden are increasingly recognized when it comes to looking after human relatives, there is skepticism present when you must do the same for your pet. Society continues to minimize the impact pets have on our lives. Yet there are no fewer financial, mental, or emotional pressures compared to human counterparts. Caring for a sick pet for a sustained period of time can result in your experiencing depression, can impact your physical wellbeing, it can even disrupt your relationships. It’s an issue that deserves to be taken seriously.
Even those who are used to keeping it together can use a little extra guidance here. So, let’s examine this issue together, and highlight a few key areas to focus on to cope when your pet is sick. What strategies can you employ, and what resources should you be seeking out?
Probably the most important area that you need to focus on when your pet is sick is your own wellness. It isn’t selfish to consider your health when you’re responsible for that of another — quite the opposite, in fact. You can’t help anybody if you become physically, mentally, or emotionally unwell because you’ve pushed yourself too far. Therefore, it’s important to consistently take steps that keep yourself in the best possible condition.
- Remember to Eat.
When your pet is sick, it can feel as though you have too many tasks to squeeze into the day. This where a lot of people miss meals, or just make themselves a quick snack to tide them over. However, neglecting your nutrition is a surefire way to get sick yourself. If time really is at a crunch, consider preparing nutritious meals in advance that can be reheated.
- Consider Supplements.
Taking natural remedies and supplements can be a useful way to give a boost to your system at a time when your mind and body are under additional strain. There are even examples of supplements that will be effective on both you and your unwell pet. However, before sharing them, it’s always best to check whether adequate toxicity studies have been undertaken, and consult your vet first.
- Get Some Exercise.
Running around all day between work, chores, and taking care of your pet may expend energy, but it doesn’t count as exercise. Not only does taking some time dedicated entirely to gentle activity help support your physical health, it also releases endorphins that can help you cope with depression and anxiety.
- Employ Mindfulness.
We know that mindfulness might seem like a healthcare “buzzword,” but it is no less a vital component of wellness. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to find time to meditate — although that can be a positive step. At the very least, take moments to check in with yourself. Honestly assess how you’re doing physically, mentally, emotionally, and above all else be kind to yourself.
As a pet owner, you know that you have ultimate responsibility for the wellbeing of your non-human family member. However, that doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be taking this on alone. It can be really easy to think that by occasionally reaching out to others for some form of help, you’re being a burden to them. Strike that thought from your mind. In most cases, not only will those close to you be able to help you lighten the load, but they want to do so.
Spend some time setting up a support network. You don’t want to be overly reliant on a single person wherever possible — that can just result in it being too much for both of you. Instead, reach out to find out who among your friends and family can commit a small amount of time to helping you when you need it. This could be heading to the supermarket when you’re unable to, or picking the kids up from school a couple of times a week, even collecting medication from the veterinary surgery. These are small tasks when spread across a collection of caring individuals, but for you will collectively represent the lifting of a significant burden.
Even if you don’t have any chores that you need help with, your support network represents vital points of contact. Spending much of your time caring for your sick pet can result in a sense of isolation, which can leave you feeling lonely. Maintaining human contact is one of the key elements in combating the depression that can arise from loneliness. Arrange regular telephone calls with your support network, along with casual visits where they can come to your home and even just spend an hour with you and your pet.
Coping when your pet is sick is not just about how you manage the resources you already have at hand. It’s also important to spend a little time to seek out those additional resources that can help to lighten the load at the most difficult times. Indeed, when you start to see the very first signs that your pet is ill, it can be wise to start to make a list of potential sources of assistance and advice, so that you’re not scrambling around amid your caregiving.
Your veterinarian is always going to be one of your primary resources for knowledge about your pet’s condition, and the care you’re giving them. Don’t be afraid to use them accordingly. They’re also best placed to provide you with the most accurate literature about your pet’s condition; opt for this rather than trawling through search engine results that might produce pseudoscientific posts or inaccurate information that can serve to worry you further.
Remember, too that often there will be charities dedicated to the illness that your pet is experiencing. We’re not just talking about financial help, either — they can often give insights into the challenges you’ll face, and some ideas that can help both you and your pet to cope. Support groups also tend to form part of their services. Again, your veterinarian is likely to keep a list of these organizations should you need them.
Anybody caring for a pet during a long illness is likely to balk at the very suggestion of taking a break. Even when you have time to do so, there can be a feeling of guilt that you’ve taken time away from them when they’re suffering. However, it is one of the most important things you can do for your wellbeing. Your pet is also likely to benefit from a less stressed parent, too.
By all means, make preparations for your break — produce detailed pet sitting instructions for a member of your support circle, plan your journey away from the house to ensure you arrive back on time. But go outside without the pressure of completing a chore of any description. Take a walk in nature on your own, or visit with friends. Don’t forget your hobbies; they can help provide you with much-needed opportunities to shift your focus away from the pressures you may be feeling.
It can be all too easy to not just become stressed, but also resentful when it feels as though so many aspects of your life revolve around giving care. This is perfectly natural, but when left unchecked it can affect your relationships — not just with your pets, but also with other members of your family. Treat your breaks as time that is dedicated just to you, and what you need.
Our pets are an integral aspect of our family. When they become ill, we want to do everything we can to make sure that they suffer as little as possible. During long periods of sickness, it can become easy to succumb to the mental, physical, and emotional problems that are common among caregivers. However, it is not just in our own best interest to put coping mechanisms in place, it’s vital for the wellbeing of the rest of our family — animal and human alike.