This isn’t something we like to talk about as it can be an uncomfortable feeling that we can’t always do everything we feel we should for our beloved pet, but it’s something we really need to talk about. This post will help you to identify the signs, understand the causes, and includes some practical tips for dealing with caregiver fatigue.
What is Caregiver Fatigue
First of all, if you are feeling exhausted, frustrated, sore, and isolated while trying to support your beloved dog who is dealing with a significant medical issue, you are not alone. Most of us go through it at one point or another and it’s a really tough time. Not only are our hearts and bodies taking a beating but our minds are as well as we have a tendency to load on guilt when we’re in this situation. We feel guilty for what we can’t do or perhaps that we feel we may not be doing enough.
It’s no different from caregiver fatigue when caring for our human loved ones. When the symptoms aren’t managed, caregiver fatigue becomes caregiver burnout: a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion.
What Causes It?
Caregiver fatigue and burnout are typically reported with extreme fatigue, stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and sometimes depression. The caregivers are often so busy caring for their loved ones that they often neglect their own health and it takes a toll.
Here are some causes of caregiver fatigue and burnout:
- Lack of control — Unfortunately, we’re not always able to control the medical situation of our dog. That may be due to a deteriorating condition and aging, or it may be a financial challenge to provide care. It may be a lack of time or not having the right skills to manage the situation.
- Unrealistic demands — Sometimes we take on too much responsibility that could possibly be shared with other family members. Other times, this burden is placed on us. Additionally, we sometimes place unrealistic burdens on ourselves as to what we can actually do.
- Unreasonable expectations — Sadly, no matter how much we may be willing and able to do, we simply can’t stave off the inevitable. We hope to have a positive effect on our dog’s health and happiness but that’s not always possible. It can feel very personal when this happens when we are giving so much.
What often happens when people suffer from caregiver fatigue is that they lose the ability to assess their own situation as they are so focused on who they are caring for. This leads to burnout and eventually to an inability to function effectively. Though this is understandable, it does no one any good, particularly the patient.
How to Know if You Have Caregiver Fatigue?
The symptoms of caregiver fatigue are often similar to those for stress and depression. They may include:
- Exhaustion, both emotional and physical
- Loss of interest in activities the person used to enjoy
- Irritability, hopelessness, and helplessness
- Changes in weight, appetite, or both
- Isolation and withdrawal from loved ones and socializing
- Increased illness or possibly physical injuries
- Changes in sleeping, either too much or too little
As fatigue evolves into burnout, the severity of symptoms may increase and more serious symptoms may evolve like feelings of self-harm or aggression.
Tips for Managing Caregiver Fatigue
Though it may not feel like it sometimes, there are a lot of things you can do to manage caregiver fatigue and to try to keep it from progressing.
Talk to Someone
Find a person you trust that you can share your feelings with. It may be a family member, a friend, or a coworker. Whomever it is, just make sure you can have an open and supportive dialogue. Sometimes just sharing your feelings will help you feel better.
Consult with a Vet
If you’re feeling burned out by caring for your dog, talk with me or your primary care vet about it. We understand what you’re going through and maybe there are changes you can make or something we can recommend to help you manage the situation better. For example, if you’re having to carry your dog around on bad days, maybe a cart would help ease your back while still helping your dog. It’s important to educate yourself to be sure you understand what to expect and talking with your vet is a great way to do that.
Set Realistic Expectations
Fear of the unknown, or even an unpleasant future, can weigh heavily on you. However, it’s important for you to prepare yourself for what the future may bring. Make sure when you talk with your vet, you get a clear picture so you can set your expectations accordingly. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by expecting that your assistance will cause dramatic improvement if that isn’t possible.
Ask for Help
You may feel you need to do it all for one reason or another, but that’s not entirely true. It’s important to ask for help when you need it. Maybe it’s a family member or a friend or perhaps it’s paying for a temporary caregiver to help. Know your limits and be honest with yourself.
Take a Break
We all need to get away sometimes and it’s especially important when you’re feeling burned out. See if someone can care for your dog for a couple of days. Or check with your primary vet. Vet techs often offer pet-sitting services and they have medical experience, are familiar with your dog’s issue, and your vet’s cell number!
Take Care of Yourself, Too
Your focus may be on your dog and that’s understandable, but you need some “me time” too. This includes mental, emotional, and physical self-care. Take time to go for a walk or to the gym. Get a massage if your back is hurting or take a hot bath. Do some things you enjoy too so it’s not all about your dog, at least for a little while. And make sure to get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Make sure to fill your own cup first. Especially when you are taking care of two, it’s important.
Talk with a Professional When You Need
Sometimes we need a little extra help from a professional. That may be a therapist, social worker, or even a clergy member that is trained to counsel people dealing with similar issues. You can also look for groups, either in-person or online, that may be able to provide you with some support when you need it.
Above all, be kind to yourself and accept how you are feeling. This can be a really tough time emotionally and it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to feel negative, frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you’re doing a bad job caring for your dog.
Taking care of your dog when they are injured or unwell is hard work! It’s tough enough when it’s short-term but when longer-term care is required, it can be really challenging. Try to be positive but realistic as well, and make sure you make it onto your list for care. After all, we can care for others better when we are taking care of ourselves, first. Don’t wait until you are completely burned out and above all, make sure to communicate and ask for help when you need it.