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Self-Care for the Pet Caregiver

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Caring For You: The Pet Caregiver

Pet caregivers need to take time for their own self-care.

Who is taking care of you while you’re busy taking care of your pet and probably experiencing anticipatory grief?  Self-care at this time is not selfish. It’s vital to your well-being.  You need to take care of yourself, too.

Consider Your Own
Quality of Life

When you hear the phrase “quality of life,” you may automatically think of how that pertains to your pet’s life. However, you need to also think about your quality of life. This is very important for self-care.

Keep in mind your own needs during this time, and how those needs can be met. Here are questions* to help you assess your quality of life and indentify where you may need help:

  • How much of my time will go toward taking care of my pet?
  • How much time do I have to spare?
  • What cost will I incur to take care of my pet?  What other financial responsibilities do I have?
  • What other responsibilities do I have in my life (job, parenting)?
  • Who else do I need to consider (partner, children, other pets)?
  • Who can help me?
  • What other stresses and obligations do I have in my life right now?

*Reprinted with permission from the Argus Institute, Colorado State University

Remember, the better your self care is, the better you can care for your pet and those around you who love him or her.

Focus on What You Can Control

You might not be able to cure your beloved pet’s illness but looking at what you can do to improve his or her life is invaluable for both of you.  See if you can find a silver lining in your caregiving.  You might learn how deep your ability to love has become or your capacity for compassion and patience has grown. You are a better person for going through this process and can see how your pain may help others.

Are you feeling overwhelmed right now? Take a deep breath.

  • Stop what you’re doing, sit quietly for a few minutes, clear your mind, and take several deep, calming breaths.
  • Inhale deeply on a slow count of four, hold it for a second or two, and then exhale on a slow count of four.

Try this now.

A Support Network is Important for Self-Care

Find or create a network of people you can talk to – such as Day By Day’s network – people who can be supportive in your pet caregiving journey.  Family, friends, other pet caregivers, your veterinarian and his/her staff – these are all people who may be part of your support network as well.

In addition, you can look to Day By Day’s Yahoo group for caregivers who share their experiences, information, and emotional support. You can also join one of the many Day By Day support circles in your area.  These groups are lead by experienced counselors, who are also available for one-on-one counseling sessions. Or Day By Day’s telephone hotline (484-453-8210) is always available to take your call to help you emotionally or assist with directing you in your next step.

Allow Yourself to Feel

As a pet caregiver, you may face a variety of emotional challenges – stress, anxiety, exhaustion, sadness and even guilt.  It’s important to realize that all of these emotions are normal.  Give yourself permission to express your feelings and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  It’s ok to feel or say things like, “This is hard,” “I am struggling,” or “Maybe I need to talk to someone who understands and can help me.”

Simply recognizing what you are feeling and why you are feeling it can go along way in helping you find ways to regain your emotional strength.  Even more importantly, you need to know where to turn for help, support and additional resources to get you through the difficult patches in your role as a pet caregiver, so you will be able to handle the next portion of your journey.

Sometimes, the feelings can be overwhelming. Here are two common pitfalls pet caregivers often face:

Whether you are just beginning to care for an aged/ill pet or have been doing it for some time, there will be moments, days or even weeks when you feel overwhelmed, disheartened or unable to cope. Experiencing anticipatory grief while caring for an aging, chronic or terminally ill pet can take a toll on your emotions. This can in turn affect your physical health and your ability to function at your best.

Maintaining your emotional and physical health can help you do more for your pet and be a better pet caregiver.  We can offer you some useful information, tools and resources to help you manage your emotions and stress, beginning with simple things you can do at home.

“Caregiver Syndrome”

Caregiver Syndrome happens when a person’s life becomes so consumed by caring for a chronic or terminally ill pet that they lose themselves after they lose their pets. After devoting enormous amounts of time, energy and attention to a sick pet, the inevitable happens. When the pet passes, many pet caregivers have to re-assess and even re-invent their lives.

Coping with this syndrome can involve trying to do activities that you once enjoyed with friends or family before your pet became ill, devising a new daily routine for yourself, or taking a vacation now that your pet caregiving duties have come full circle.  Sometimes, taking the focus off of yourself and doing charity work can help.  Consider spending a few hours a week volunteering at a shelter, veterinary clinic, or local rescue organization to help other pets in need.  If working with animals would be too painful, then choose another way to give of yourself, or take up a new hobby.

Asking for Help is Healthy

Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it’s a healthy way of coping with all that you are going through. Trying to manage everything all by yourself can drain you and leave you with nothing left to give. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Be sure to attend to your own healthcare needs. Remember to eat right, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and keep up with your doctor appointments. This is probably the easiest part of self-care since most of us did this before our pet became sick or declined from age.

Give yourself time off when you need it

Sometimes, in order to continue, you must step back and refuel.  Know when you need a break.

Caregivers need to take breaks, daily and weekly.  Figure out what replenishes you specifically.  Some things that are restorative for others are the following: massage, being out in nature, listening to music or comedy, watching movies, dining out, being with family, little children, seeing beauty at an art museum or shopping at a mall, taking up a new hobby or activity, being creative, etc.

Discover what energizes you. Balance is important. See how the circle of life continues and we are all a part of it.

If you need more time away, consider enlisting the services of a pet sitter who is qualified to care for your pet in your absence. Contact us to get a list of resources in your area that can care for your pet while you take a break.

Learn to forgive yourself

When all is said and done, you want to feel you did all that you could to care for your beloved pet. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes.

We should try, therefore, to just do the best that we can. Part of doing our best for our pets also means taking care of our own needs.