Caring for a pet with “special needs” can be really stressful. Last post we talked more about the different ways having a pet with behavioral special needs can impact an owner emotionally, in their day to day life, and in their relationships.
Here are a few ideas of what you can do to take care of yourself while caring for your pet with special needs:
1. Find ways to express your feelings
Whether you are feeling stressed out, exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, wherever you are at – find a way to let it out so it doesn’t get bottled up inside. Ideally you want to find a “healthy” way to express it – a way that both gives voice and relief to the feeling while also not causing someone else (or yourself!) more distress. For example, if you feel like you just need to scream for a second, maybe do that in a wide open field or in a room with a closed door by yourself, rather than at your partner or your pet! The sky’s the limit on strategies – journaling, talking to a good friend, going for a long walk, therapy, crying, laughing – find what works for you.
2. Tend to your needs
Being a caregiver can often mean putting the needs of others (including your pet’s) above your own. But like they tell us during the airplane safety demos, you’ve got to make sure you have your oxygen mask on before you’ll be able to help someone else. So find ways to identify what your needs are (and start with the basics – food, sleep, exercise!) and how you can make sure you are taking care of yourself. I’ve found with caregiving, having an option of some kind of respite is often a key part of sustaining yourself in that caregiving role. Examples of this might be hiring a professional pet sitter, or asking your partner to stay at home with your pet while you have an afternoon away.
3. Develop strategies that help to manage (or reduce!) the day to day stress
Find the caregiving routines that work for you and your pet! The fewer decisions you have to make every time a situation arises, the more that can help you manage your stress. For example, if you have a dog that is reactive on leash and you decide that it is easiest to stay away from other dogs, you may decide to cross the street every time you see another dog. Now there is no pressure on yourself to decide each time how close you should get, what you want to do – just stick with your plan. Or you find that your picky-eater dog likes taking her morning pills in smelly liverwurst more than the big bag of pill pockets you just bought – so just do liverwurst every time (until, of course, her precious self decides that only goat cheese will do! I might be speaking from experience here…). Use a strategy for as long as it works, and then update as you need to.
4. Find support in others
We all know that there are people who will not understand the level of care we are willing to give our pets and the extent to of which we are adjusting our lives for them. Find folks who do get it. There are more of them than you might think! Find people who can both support you in your choices and will also remind you to take care of yourself at the same time you are caring for your pet. Here at VetVine we are running a series about The Emotional Impact of a Pet's Behavior Problem on the Caregiver (our next roundtable call on Wed, April 26th, will be about separation anxiety, details here!). There are also support groups for pet owners, here is a link to more info about ongoing groups.
What strategies have you found to be helpful in caring for yourself while caring for your “special needs” pet?
Kristin Buller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Veterinary Social Work. Kristin lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Ruby. For more information on Kristin, visit www.kristinbuller.com.