The Art of Being a Caregiver to a Pet
Many of us have so many responsibilities in our day to day lives that we often forget to take care of ourselves. This is certainly no exception when caring for our pets, especially if they require extra appointments with their veterinarian, or special medication and exercise needs. But when you are busy taking care of your pet, who is taking care of you? Self care at this time is not selfish, it is necessary. The love that we have for our pets is deep and we want to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide them a “quality life”. However, the quality of your life while you are a caregiver, is equally important.
Whether becoming a caregiver to your pet is a new experience, or you have already been at it it for a long time, there will always be days when you feel overwhelmed and possibly unable to cope. It may be normal to experience feelings of exhaustion, sadness, anxiety, or even guilt. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is your feeling. It’s ok to say things like “this is hard” or “I am not sure how much longer I can do this”. As much as we would like to feel in control of everything, there are going to be things you can’t control. We can’t slow down our pet’s natural aging process and medications may not be able to stop your pet’s illness from progressing. Try to focus on the things you can control.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is have a support network. Have people you can talk to who will be supportive on your pet caregiving journey. Family, friends, and your veterinarian, are all people who may want to be part of your network and offer assistance. You may also look for support groups in the area or websites that offer chat rooms for some of the same challenges or ailments your pet is experiencing. Trying to manage everything on your own can drain you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people in your network. Sometimes things as simple as picking up a prescription or some groceries for you can give one less thing to do and that small break in your day when you need it most.
While you will certainly be taking care of the details for your pet such as where are they comfortable resting, what time should they be fed, when do they need their medications – be sure to attend to your some of your own basic needs. One of those needs is eating healthy. When we are under additional pressure, it's difficult not to turn to junk food for comfort or a quick bite. However, beware, that not eating healthy can cause further havoc on your brain and body. For example, too much chocolate can leave you dragging after the sugar jolt fades away. An overdose of salty chips can dehydrate your body and the brain, bringing on fatigue. A healthy selection may include bananas, fish, baked potatoes, avocados, chicken and dark green leafy veggies...all which are loaded with B vitamins that will provide energy to your body.
Exercise can be a valuable way to provide a distraction from ongoing stress, as well as an outlet for frustrations, and it gives your endorphins a lift as well.
Although you may not feel that you have enough time as you are trying to stick to a comfortable routine for your pet, you could try to do some deep breathing exercises or meditation. Planning just 5 minutes a day into your care giving schedule would be a very good start to starting a self-care ritual.
While seeing to every detail of your pet’s medical care, it is important not to neglect your own. If you have a dentist appointment or need to see your chiropractor, do your best to keep these appointments for yourself. Your own health is as important as your pets; missing an annual checkup or exam could lead to you being further run down.
Don’t be afraid to step back and re-energize yourself. Another consideration would be having a qualified pet sitter come and stay with your pet while you go out to see a movie, or out for a nice dinner with friends. Figure out what would help you feel relaxed and give yourself some time off when you need it.
We all want to feel that we have done everything we can for our beloved pets, but learn to give yourself some personal space. It’s been my personal experience when caring for my own pet during an illness, that being a caregiver often comes with tremendous guilt as we can't help but wonder if we are doing enough. Just remember, no situation is going to be perfect and we may mistakes along the way. Just do the best you can – that’s all any of us can do and that is certainly all your pet wants.
Put Your O2 Mask on First
Laura Peppard, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC offers the familiar guideline that most can relate to. "Put your O2 mask on first. For those who have ever traveled on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs us that in the event of an emergency, you should put your O2 mask on before assisting small children or others. The same guideline can be used in our day-to-day routine when caregiving for others. Put your O2 mask on first, so that you will be able to comfortably assist others".