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.
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.
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.
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.
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