How to Cope When Your Pet is Sick

December 2, 2016

coping when a pet is sick

By Julia Williams

The bonds we form with our beloved animal companions are deep, long lasting, and often life changing. When our pets are healthy, we are happy and life is good. When they get sick, life can become a roller coaster ride as we experience a litany of emotions from anxiety, fear, anger and frustration to sadness, despair and depression. These feelings are a natural response to the situation, but they do adversely affect us. And whether our pet’s illness is treatable or terminal, the emotional toll is largely the same.

Having cared for a cat with kidney disease for nearly a year, I’ve been there, so I know. Which is why today I wanted to share some of the ways I have learned to manage the stress of caring for a sick pet. It would be great if no one ever needed to know this, but the reality is that even with the very best care from a responsible pet owner, an illness can strike at any time. Here are some things you can do to help you cope when your pet is sick.

Take “Me Time” Breaks

When it feels like you spend every spare moment caring for your sick pet, it can really start to wear you down. It’s important to make time for yourself, to engage in calming activities and do things that lift your spirits and provide a respite from focusing on your pet. Draw, paint, color, sculpt, read a book, play a game, do yoga, write a poem, make some jewelry, have coffee with a friend, watch a funny movie…it doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy what you’re doing and it helps you relax and recharge.

Find Support

During this trying time, seek support from friends, family and fellow pet owners to help you not only emotionally but also to gain insight and information from others who’ve had a similar experience. Whether the relationship is carried out in person on online, it’s vital to have people in your life that provide an opportunity to express the difficult emotions you are experiencing, as these can be a heavy burden to bear alone. “No man is an island,” as the saying goes.

Take Care of Yourself

When you’re caring for a sick pet, your own wellbeing has a tendency to take a backseat. You might forget to eat or subsist on frozen meals, or forego getting needed medical procedures because you’re focusing on helping your pet. However, it will be hard to care for a sick pet if you fall ill yourself, so try to eat healthy food, exercise (a walk is great for de-stressing), take your vitamins and be sure to get adequate sleep. It’s also good to find ways to boost your immunity and reduce your stress levels; breathing exercises, meditation, creative visualization, listening to soft music and even just sitting quietly by yourself can all help.

Cat New Ad Sidebar - no bag1Don’t Play the “Blame Game”

You may experience feelings of bitterness towards other family members or the vet for not doing enough to help your ailing pet, or even blame yourself for your animal’s illness. Blame is a normal human emotion when your pet becomes sick. I understand the desire to find fault to help with the pain, but chances are, no one is to blame. Even if something you or another person did contributed to the pet’s illness, blaming doesn’t change the outcome and can only make you feel worse, so try to let it go.

Anticipatory Grieving

If your pet has a serious or terminal illness, you may find yourself experiencing all the emotions of grief in anticipation of losing them. This is known as anticipatory grieving, and the physical and emotional reactions are the same as the grief after a pet has passed. Make no mistake – it’s difficult to watch your pet’s quality of life deteriorate. The important thing is not to suppress your feelings and to express whatever grief arises. It’s a natural part of the process. Anticipatory grieving can also help you come to terms with the inevitable.

Make Memories

I have read many heartwarming stories about people who created bucket lists for their sick pets and then set about checking off the items one by one. The idea is to make the pet’s remaining days some of the best of his or her life, as well as to create treasured memories for you, of happy times shared with your pet. The bucket list doesn’t have to be elaborate and in fact, should contain activities that are reasonably easy to make happen. As long as they are things you and your pet enjoy, they will make these final days special and memorable.

When a much-loved pet is sick, the emotional upheaval can be incredibly difficult to deal with. I hope these tips will help you cope and give you some peace when your pet is sick.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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  1. Veronica says:

    My sweet almost 12 yr old girl chihuahua was just diagnosed with tracheal collapse and the level of stress and anxiety that I’m living is beyond overwhelming. I couldn’t of known that dealing with these health issues would be this hard as I have never been through this. The depression thinking of losing her, the anxiety everytime I see her having a hard time breathing or catching her breathe, the agony of hearing her have bouts of snorting and coughing trying to catch her breath and not be able to help her is sometimes too much. I cry constantly and literally just leave to work and race back home to be with her every minute. My family thinks I’m losing it and I have to say I just may be. It seems insane to be told by a doctor that all you can do is wait and see. How are you supposed to live like that? I’m angry, tired and drained and can’t imagine what will become of me if I’m in for a long time of watching her suffer. I’m only glad to know I am not alone in the intensity of the feelings.

  2. Alex says:

    My cat started losing her appetite, I didn’t realize she was eating less and less until one day she starting throwing up. Two months later, 6 or 7 visits to the vet, -$2000ish we still don’t know why she lost her appetite in the first place. I have her on appetite simulants, and it works for a few days, then she starts eating less and less until the next dose. My heart stops everytime I get home and look at her plate realizing she hasn’t touched it. I stop breathing and moving when she gets near it so that I don’t distract her in case she is feeling like eating.This has been such an emotional rollercoaster, I have not been able to feel like myself, I’m always stressed and anxious she won’t eat even with the medicine. I’m just so tired and sad all the time. I understand pets age, I understand odds are she will leave this world before I do, but I am just not emotionally equipped to deal with this pain. She is my baby, my friend, my anchor… She has saved my life and my heart so many times, I just don’t know how to deal with this. It doesn’t help that 95% of people look at me like I’m overreacting and crazy for caring so much about a pet, my boss literally laughed out loud when I told him I was stressed cause my cat was I’ll. My friends tell me to get over it, that it is nature… And I know it is, and I hate that I can’t control it, and I hate even more that this is controlling me and my life. I just wish she could be with me, healthy and happy forever. She will be my last pet, I don’t think I will be up to dealing with this pain ever again.

  3. Shearer says:

    I want to cry, but I also don’t want to cry, not sure why. I feel tired and worn down caring for my 12 year old beagle. We don’t know her fate yet, despite the visits to the vet. I hate the fact that I can’t control the situation. I just feel so powerless. I just don’t want to deal with this right now. If I could just be given some more time with my little beagle, just a little more time. I want to see her back to her old self, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I’m tired and she is exhausted. I don’t know what is going to happen in the next few days, but I know I love her and I’ll do what is best for her despite the pain.

  4. Jeannie says:

    My best friend Jackie has a condition that makes her nails grow in all directions and one actually caught on something and was pulled out causing an infection in her foot. She is a rescue, 3 years old and I’ve had her for one year. She has gone from totally afraid of everyone to my buddy. She’s on meds now and it hurts terribly for her to walk. Today has been so hard. I am so tired and she just wants to sit next to me and lean on me, occasionally gazing up at me as I pet her. She’s in pain. I’m in pain also. We’ve bonded over this past year and I pray tonight that she will recover. You see, I wasn’t a dog person. Now I truly am. I love her so much. Late last I realized just how much.

  5. Megan Ayers says:

    My one year old yorkie has suffered from a chronic uti for several months. It’s a miracle he’s potty trained. He has been on rounds and rounds of antibiotics. He’s sick of having urges every hour or more and I am very exhausted from walking him all day and night. Even between walks he is crying and in constant pain. I’m going to ask the vet about the possibilities of liver disease or cancer. It just seems like antibiotics should clear up a uti and especially after 4 works of taking it. I hope that we can find a cause and solution very soon! In the meantime, I need to do as the article suggests and take a break from caring for him.

  6. Julie says:

    Thankyou for sharing this. It helps just to know others understand and our feelings and emotions are valid as too many people are dismissive of caring for pets as if humans are the only thing in the world that matters.

  7. David Ramos says:

    I’m writing this reply with tears falling down my face , it’s so difficult to deal with but your words did help me deal a little better. Thanks for your helpful words . We got Mimi ( Dogs ñame English cocker spaniel) 13 years ago and she is having heart issues and seizures , she just had one an hour ago and it’s the worst to deal with . I stopped work cause we cannot leave her alone and both my partner and I have jobs that are 12 or more hour days . We made the decision to have me stay with Mimi so that she don’t feel alone and most importantly when her seizures happen I’m here to support her get through it . Like you said we can blame ourselves for what’s happening to our pets and I do , your words help me not to and I wanna thank you so much for your help cause now I feel like making a bucket list for Mimi and I will try my hardest to complete it. She has been following me every where I go in my home and I hope it’s not cause she feels like she wants to go or am I thinking it wrong ??? . I’m gonna send your article to my partner so that he can feel better. You are an angel thanks a million , sorry if I’m all over the place I’m just full of emotions. I so appreciate your time. Mimi will appreciate it too . Have a beautiful day.

  8. kristi L helm says:

    My guinea pig is very sick right now. I noticed she wasn’t quite herself yesterday and wasn’t eating very much. I thought it was because her cage was dirty. So I deep-cleaned her cage. (I soaked it with dishsoapy hot water.) I had to put her down on the floor while I did this. While she was still able to move she moved alot more slowly than usual. When I put her in her cage she still refused to eat or drink. I made an appt. with the vet but not until 10 tomorrow morning. Basically she is just curled up by her stuffed toys and resting. That’s the way she’s been all day. I’ve been doing some reading on the web and alot of the symptoms whe has match those of a respiratory illness. But I’m terrified she’s not even going to make it till tomorrow. The funny thing is she was just at the vet’s day before yesterday. She’s had thrush before but they said her mouth looked fine. I also asked the vet to listen to her heart and look in her ears and that too was fine. But she’s very sick right now. I keep telling her,”Baby, just hang on till tomorrow morning”. I feel like I’m already greiving her. I’ve been sobbing off and on all day. My mom and dad are both dead and my brothers never call me. So to me she’s all the family I have. She’s like my baby. I’m going to be devestated if she passes. I just ask anyone who sees this to please pray for her. Thank you.

  9. Stacy Koontz says:

    We are in this stage with our Gran-dog and I just want to say thank you!! Not only for your words of experience but right down to the soft font of the letters of each word did I find so comforting!! I have cried so many tears until endless headaches come and go but your comments and suggestions have made such a difference!!
    Thank you again!!

  10. Melanie says:

    Bless you all. I’m going through the roller-coaster of hope anxiety fear and devastated despair at my cats illness. It so helped reading this. At least we all truly love our pets and give them the best care we can, even if it means having to make the decision to put them to sleep humanely. We are not alone and this article has summed it all up for me.

  11. Kk says:

    Today morning , I lost my 4months old kitty. He vomited acids, yellowish colour liquid that killed many ants that fall accidentally on it. I think it was extremely acidic. I gave him food, water, medicine (antacid) but he was unable to swallow it. I stay in village area. No Veterinary services over here. I saw him dying. It was extremely painful feeling. I prayed to God to make me suffer and in return make my kitty feel good. But my prayer failed. After 12hours of constant unbearable pain he passed away. I was there only with him. I am feeling extremely guilty,I am feeling worst that I don’t have job. If I had, I would have booked a taxi and took him to city. But I failed. Govt failed to provide good doctors for animals. I am feeling like my brain will burst. I am just trying to control my emotions.

    1. Melanie says:

      Please don’t beat yourself up. You loved your kitty and did the best you could. I really sympathise with your pain. Please adopt another kitty to give them all the loving care you have.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My dog has cancer. I just found out and am devastated. I’ve done all the things you suggested and it really does help. It relieves the sadness and anxiety. I am so happy I found your article. It really made me feel better. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  13. Martin says:

    Thank you. Very helpful.

  14. Bean says:

    My 9 month old puppy has recently started having episodes of shaking, trembling and loosing his balance. It appears it could be mini seizures. He is currently going through a full medical work up but the vet is unsure what could be causing it. I am so incredibly scared for him. Him and his health is all I can think about. I feel literally sick at the thought of loosing him or him being in pain. I know I need to stop obsessing but I can’t. I just love him so much and want to help..

  15. Lindsay says:

    I have a 14 week old mini golden doodle who keeps getting large abcsesses on his body and our vet isn’t sure why. Lots of hot compresses and antibiotics. It’s been difficult seeing my puppy so sick. You wouldn’t think a dog this young would be having health issues. He is usually energetic and playful but now sleeps most of the day and you can tell he is hurting. Was looking for some comfort for my anxiety and sadness about all of this.

  16. L says:

    I’ve had my one cat for 14 years. He is almost 15. I have had him since I was 6, and the idea of losing him is terrible. I had an anxiety attack at work and cried in the bathroom. I’m a mess.

    He no longer eats because of a mouth ulcer. If it doesn’t heal soon, it is most likely cancer.

    I don’t know what to do, but this article has helped me.

    I try to hold back tears, but it seems like it’s easier to just cry.

    1. Zareen says:

      Thanks for sharing, I am in the same position. Doctor will diagnose after 2 days because he has to do a biopsy of a lump under my cats tongue. They suspect its Squamous Carcinoma. I am not the same, I can’t stop crying, blaming myself, and just feeling utterly helpless. May I ask how your cat is doing?

      1. Jaime says:

        My cat had My cat had a clean bill of health in December and then in January, had increased thirst and weight loss and I found out he had diabetes. I was frustrated but the vet explained the manageability of the situation and I did what I had to do to take care of him. Insulin shots twice a day with diet change. Then I noticed a bump on his back, and after a couple months, several bumps, and I found out they are mast cell tumors. Some are worse than others but they’re everywhere now. I’m terrified for his health. It seems like it happened overnight. He’s not the same, doesn’t run and play, isn’t eating as much, and the vet keeps making suggestions after suggestions, which are putting me in debt. I would do anything for him, but the next step might be a costly, risky surgery. I’m not sure what my next move is, but my emotions have been a roller coaster, and I don’t think I’ve ever been this depressed.. My boy is only 10 and I thought I might have another 10 years and now I’m scared I won’t even get 1. I will try my best to deal with this situation but I’m not feeling very strong right now. I cry non stop. I just felt like I could relate and I hope and pray your cat has a better outcome.

        1. Angie says:

          It is every pet owner’s nightmare, not only the vet bills are piling up, but the sense of helplessness is haunting. It is a difficult decision. At what cost? And I am not talking about money here. My vet asked me what I want for my pal? A happy life, or, an extended warranty? When a vet doesn’t know when to stop suggesting, it is not about the animal. Let go is unbearable, but only you can make that call for the poor thing. Give it peace and not giving up. Be strong for him. If we are reading this, we have been here. We knows how that feel.

  17. Polly says:

    My 12 year old springer had a suspected stroke yesterday. I work away from home so my poor husband was here by himself. I feel completely overwhelmed with anticipatory grief even though he’s showing no ill effects apart from being more tired. He’s our first dog and I can’t imagine life without him.

  18. once i had a pet who was fallen sick i took it to pet hospital and they said me to keep the pet warm until it is fine.THAT day onwards i was careful about my pet

  19. Susie says:

    Thank you for posting this. My 12 year old miniature Dachshund has been just been diagnosed with a chronic lung disease and chronic kidney disease. I just my other Dachshund 3 months ago, and I am still grieving for her–now this. They do not know how long she has– maybe 1 year but her breathing is so rapid it makes me think not that long. I am grieving for one and now have anticipatory grief for the other. I don’t know what to do. I’m so depressed it is getting hard to function. She seems to still enjoy life to some level, but it is hard.

    1. Valeria says:

      I am going through the same thing. My miniature dachshund was diagnosed with aggressive mammary cancer. Im still trying to adjust to the fact that she doesn’t have long to live. This is my first time knowing I will eventually have to put her down and it is so hard to think about it. She’s 13 years old and I expected for her to live longer, but now it is not possible anymore. I blame myself soooo much for her getting sick, not taking her to the vet sooner. Im trying so hard not to right right now.

    2. Dg says:

      What is it with dauchshunds that just tear you up when they arent their usual self. My 11 year ruby Appears to have cancer. In just 1 week she turned from an energetic feisty best friend to a weak frail old dog. Who will always be my best friend. I didn’t expect this for at least another 5-8 years. It’s not right

  20. Mel says:

    6 months ago my prissycat got sick from hyper thyroid. Vet removed the tumor and thyroid. I nursed her back to health after surgery. A blood test revealed she has kidney disease. I’ve been giving her prescription food and now she is starting fluid therapy which is the last treatment I can give her. I’m hoping the fluid therapy will help her for several months. It’s such a difficult process. I love her so much and spend considerable amount of time coaxing her to eat and drink, cleaning up after her messy food, litter, and sickness. I’m working extra shifts to cover her care and still contribute to my savings.

    I’m trying to enjoy just being with her, petting her, snuggling together. Letting her know she is loved, helping her have a normal routine and making her comfortable at home. everyone who crosses my path hears about my beloved prissycat as the words just spill out of me. I’m reassured by having a great experienced vet who helps keep costs low, a boyfriend and best friend who are both going to help me administer the fluid therapy at home, and everyone who patiently listens to our story and to those who share their own pet story with me.
    Since prissycat has been ill it’s more challenging to do yoga at home so I go to the yoga studio for classes and workshops. Sometimes I just need to get out of the house for a while or make an extra stop after work to meet a friend, get a pedicure, see a movie, go for a walk, do fun things and remember life is full of possibilities. At home I take baths with lavender, listen to soft music, light candles, read, journal, watch Netflix, and meditate to relax. I’m doing everything I can for prissycat and giving her more care than most cats get. It’s bittersweet preparing myself for after my cat passes away. I will go to grad school and hopefully move in with my bf and his dog. Planning things to look forward to after my cat is gone helps keep perspective, caring for a sick pet is temporary. I know she has had a good life, the best life I could give her. And my life will continue on after she is gone. When the time comes to say goodbye I am hoping to have the vet come to my home to put prissy into final rest so she can be comfortable in her last few moments. I’m also gonna print out some of her cute photos and put them in an album, and have her cremated and ashes in a special container so I will always remember my precious prissycat.

  21. Mirka says:

    Our 10 year old Havanese Lily was just diagnosed with melanoma. After speaking with an oncologist and considering her other health issues with liver and autoimmune disorder, we have decided not pursue further treatment and instead focus on making her comfortable. One of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. and I am still not okay with it. Even though there are no good options for treatment, I feel like we are giving up on her. I am scared for what is to come but will try to take each day I can have with Lily as a gift. Thank you for the helpful tips!

  22. Robin says:

    I just found out two days ago that my almost 10 year old dog has bone cancer. I haven’t eaten and all I do is cry. He is on pain meds and anti-inflammatory meds. The vet said he can live a year or a few months. It’s so hard to see him struggling walking and he can’t get comfortable when he lies down. I will be following this blog to see how all of you cope and advice is always welcome. Thank you so much. Sending love to all of you.

  23. Denise says:

    Three plus years ago, one of my dogs was diagnosed with early stage kidney disease.
    Two years later, my second dog was diagnosed with early stage kidney disease and dry eye.
    At the beginning of this year, my second dog was exhibiting signs of degenerative myelopathy
    and now my other dog is beginning to show the same signs. In addition to medication for their
    kidneys, both are on a homemade diet to help take any strain off the kidneys. I am thankful
    I have a friend I can turn to when another crisis has past and I need to cry but I am finding the day to day
    process of meal preparation, dealing with accidents due to incontinence, getting their individual walks in to keep
    those muscles moving, worrying when their appetite is off or when they just don’t seem right, to be mentally
    challenging. I am so glad I came across this article as it showed me what I am feeling is normal. To be
    depressed is normal. To experience anticipatory grief, normal and to know it’s okay to take care of myself.
    Thank you for writing this article and letting others know they aren’t alone.

  24. Claire says:

    Thank you for this
    My dog was diagnosed with heart condition 21 months ago and we thought we would lose her earlier and have had anticpatory grief for this time too … she is ticking over mostly fine with a few “episodes “ when she is hot or has reverse sneezing .. it has been incredibly stressful when I actually stop and think about it son got quite upset with me as we can’t keep leaving the dog to visit him and his wife ;0( .. and also my husband had major op in November ..
    We have not had a holiday for 2 years and we don’t have the heart not to be there if something happens to her … we had a night away to see art Garfunkel ( inlaws looked after her ) and he sang Bright eyes .. that confirmed we don’t want to leave her and her pass away or become very ill or something … thank you again

    1. Bill. says:

      Thank you for sharing. I have a 9 year old Maltese who seems to be losing control of his hind legs. Going to the vet in am. For whatever reason I feel hopeless and helpless for him. Hurts. Your words helped.

  25. Christel says:

    Thank you for these words.
    My sweet labrador has fibrosarcoma. We will try palliative radiotherapy. She is only 11 and still enjoys many things.
    Its so hard and we have so much grief.

    1. Heather says:

      Hi Christel, I can empathize with the grief. My almost 11 yr old lab/shepherd mix was just diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma in her leg. We have an appt with a radiology oncologist in 2 weeks. Any advice you can pass along as to questions to ask, etc would be greatly appreciated. ❤️

  26. Sandra M Wolfrom says:

    Thanks my sweet girl Lilly has Lymphoma and is undergoing chemo…it was going good until..she went to chase an animal in our yard and jumped off our deck and collapsed…she cannot use her back legs …i am praying it is temporary…sorry for the long comment

    1. Brooke says:

      My sweet boy has lymphoma as well and is going through chemo as well. Praying for your sweet girl

  27. These are wonderful tips, Julia. We tend to adopt older cats, so we’ve had to deal with illnesses a lot. It is so difficult, but we always do our best to ensure they have a good quality of life, and a life filled with the best love and care we are able to provide. Peace to you, dear friend.