You love your dog, so when he gets sick or injured, you may be driven to spend every hour of the day making sure his needs are met. Just remember caregiver burnout is a real thing and you need to look after yourself too.
Stress is a part of life. Work, finances, family and health…it seems there’s always something to worry about. One of the most stressful situations of all is being caregiver for an ailing loved one. It can be even more difficult when that loved one is a dog because he can’t tell you how he feels or where it hurts, the way a human can. Because of this, you may not really know what’s going on with him on any given day, or what to do to help him feel better – and that can make you hyper-vigilant and even more anxious.
Caring for a sick, injured or convalescent dog may involve administering medications or remedies, monitoring his diet and coaxing him to eat, cleaning up accidents and getting up in the night to take him out, fitting multiple vet visits into your schedule, and arranging for people to look after him when you’re out. Your love for your dog may lead you to put his needs before yours, and while you wouldn’t have it any other way, it can take a toll on your own well being. You might lose sleep, miss work, or forget to eat regularly – and that won’t do either of you any good.
Regardless of how you feel, it’s vital to look after yourself when you’re caring for a sick dog. If you think it’s unnecessary or unimportant, remember that caregiver burnout is a very real issue. You can’t take care of your dog if you don’t also take care of yourself. Here are some tips and suggestions for helping you through the stress of being a canine caregiver, whether it’s for a couple of days, a few weeks, or the rest of your dog’s lifespan.
• First and foremost, make sure you’re getting adequate sleep and exercise, and are eating regular healthy meals, every day. If you’re not, you’re putting your own health at risk, and need some help caring for your dog.
• Ask family members for assistance. If you have kids, teach them that they can and should help with certain things. If you have a partner, tell him or her to step up to the plate. Remind them that this is their dog too, and that you can’t do it alone, nor should you have to. If you live on your own, ask your friends or a trusted neighbor if they can help out. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes one to care for a sick dog!
• Find a peer group to talk to, online or in person. It won’t be hard to find someone who is going through the same thing you are. Get on the phone with a friend who’s been there, or someone you’ve met through your group, and talk about it instead of typing it out. Hearing an empathic voice can be much more personal than an email. Or maybe start your own dog caregiver support group. Giving others a place to talk could very well be great medicine for you as well. You’ll meet new people and make friends with fellow dog lovers. And when dealing with another person who feels like she’s crashing, be aware that she needs the same love and support she’s offering you. Tell her you understand and that you’re going through the same thing right now. She needs to know she isn’t alone; just having someone to listen is all most people want and appreciate. This mutually supportive relationship can be very rewarding.
• Make time to do something fun or relaxing every day. Meditate – this can be good for you and your dog. Listening to soft music can be soothing for your soul and calming for your dog. Watch a favorite movie or TV show, go shopping or for lunch with a friend, or take a walk in the fresh air. Yoga, Tai chi and deep breathing can lower stress. Engage in a favorite hobby for a short period every day, whether it’s sewing, painting or gardening. If you can, get away for a weekend and ask a friend, family member or dog-sitter to care for your dog while you’re gone – just make sure they know how to look after him, give medications, etc.
• Try and see the situation for what it is. Depending on your dog’s condition, especially if he has a serious illness or injury, or is recovering from surgery, it could be awhile before he’s back to normal. Accepting that it’s going to be a big commitment will prepare you mentally for some of the harder days you may experience. Also accept that your dog may not be as happy as he usually is, and that it might be depressing for you to see him like this – but that it’s completely normal for a sick animal to be subdued, off his food or out of sorts.
• Allow yourself to express your emotions. Cry if you have to. Holding your feelings in will not help anyone, including your dog. If you feel excessively anxious or depressed, see your doctor.
• Don’t beat yourself up if you sometimes feel resentful, frustrated or impatient with the situation, or even with your dog. These feelings often arise in caregivers, and in no way make you a bad dog parent. You’re only human!
No matter how you choose to approach your own self care during this difficult time, just make sure to do it and not push it under the rug. Look after yourself along with your dog and don’t become what you think is a pillar of strength by trying to be superhuman!