It's a well-known fact that caring for a sick relative can cause a great deal of emotional stress. In fact, scientists refer to this as caregiver burden. According to ScienceDirect:
"Caregiver burden can be defined as the strain or load borne by a person who cares for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member (Stucki & Mulvey, 2000)."
Caring for a sick family member has been linked to anxiety, depression, and reduced quality of life. But did you know that recent research has demonstrated that the same is true when it comes to caring for an ailing companion animal.
Thankfully, there are several coping strategies that can help you deal with the emotional stress of caring for a sick pet. And in this post, we'll share a few of the strategies we strive to follow when caring for our sick pets.
1) Reach out for Support
Caring for a sick pet can be overwhelming, so it's important to make sure you reach out for support. We recommend asking friends and family members to share some of the responsibilities of caring for your pet. Not only will this give you some time to take a break, it will also help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Joining a support group is another great way to share the burden of caring for a sick pet. Communicating with others that are in the same position as you can have a profound impact on your mental health. If you have trouble finding a support group, ask your veterinarian for advice or reach out to other pet owners in your area.
2) Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of a sick pet can take a huge toll on your physical and emotional health, so it's vital to practice self-care. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and spend quality time with friends and family. After all, the better you take care of yourself, the more you'll be able to help your sick pet.
Mini-breaks of 2-3 hours can be a great way to recharge your batteries without spending too much time away from your pet. Consider setting up a coffee date with a friend, watching a movie with family members, or spending a couple of hours practicing a favorite hobby.
3) Avoid Self-Blame
It's easy to harbor feelings of self-blame about your pet's illness, but it's important to remember that you're doing everything you can to help them. Unfortunately, it's a sad fact of life that pets become sick, no matter how well they've been cared for by their owners. In an article for Mercola Healthy Pets, licensed professional counselor Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, offers the following advice for banishing feelings of self-blame:
"Five to 10 times each morning, midday and evening, speak words such as, 'I am continuing to do the best I can for my beloved pet,' or 'I am a loving pet parent. I am making our remaining time together the best it can be.'"
As a result of these affirmations, you may find your self-judgment softening and the belief in yourself as a supportive pet parent strengthening."
4) Talk Openly with Your Veterinarian
Discussing your pet's illness openly with your veterinarian will help you feel more in control and ease feelings of helplessness. Your veterinarian understands that you want the best for your pet, and they'll be happy to advise you on treatment options and home care.
If your pet is terminally ill, it's especially important to discuss palliative care to improve their quality of life. Building a good relationship with your veterinarian will also make it easier to have difficult conversations about end-of-life decisions.
5) Enjoy the Small Moments with Your Pet
When your pet is sick, it's easy to forget to enjoy the small moments spent together. We recommend setting some time aside each day to relax with your pet. You could give them a massage, share some healthy snacks, brush their coat, or just curl up on the couch together.
If your pet is nearing the end of their life, it's a great idea to take some photos to remember them by. You could even consider visiting a special place with your furry friend to create some precious memories that will last a lifetime.
Losing a beloved pet can be just as painful as losing a close friend or family member. For detailed information on coping with the loss of a pet, please check out our previous blog post.