Looking after a senior dog requires a lot of extra time, energy and patience. But it’s important to ensure you’re looking after yourself too, so you can provide the best possible care for your old friend.
As your dog ages, he may require more time and care, especially if he develops health problems that affect his ability to function. You might have to help him cope with mobility issues, incontinence, or cognitive decline, as well as administer medication, clean up accidents, and encourage him to eat and exercise. In your efforts to make sure your dog is properly cared for and has good quality of life, it can be easy to forget to look after yourself too. Being a caregiver can lead to stress, emotional burnout, and physical exhaustion as you focus on the other’s health at the expense of your own. So while it’s important to meet your older dog’s every need, you also need to take time to nurture yourself — body, mind, and spirit. Read on for some self-care tips geared towards senior-dog guardians.
Check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling physically. While concentrating so much on your dog’s care, you may find yourself becoming exhausted and experiencing symptoms such as nausea, poor sleep patterns, and pain, all of which affect you negatively.
- Make sure you’re eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, although it’s fine to treat yourself to some comfort food or a take-out meal from your favorite restaurant now and then.
- Drink plenty of fresh, pure water to stay hydrated.
- Engage in regular exercise, whether it’s walking, gardening, yoga, or something more active like swimming, biking or dancing. Depending on your dog’s health and mobility, you can include her in some of the gentler activities, since exercise is important for senior canines too.
- Ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Create a relaxing bedtime routine with a comfortable environment for yourself and your dog, using peaceful music, soft pillows and blankets, and soothing essential oils such as lavender.
When caring for a dog in the final phase of life, negative emotions such as worry, fear, and sadness can weigh heavily on your heart and overcome your need to remain positive and hopeful. You can become emotionally burned out, experience anticipatory grief as you wonder how much longer your dog will live, and feel emotionally depleted from constantly monitoring his health and quality of life. Often, caregivers don’t recognize this burnout and feel alone in their struggles. We often act compassionately towards others, but are usually very hard on ourselves; treating ourselves with compassion is the most valuable thing we can do during these difficult times.
- Do some deep breathing. We often breathe very shallowly, especially when we’re stressed. Taking the time to do a few, deep, abdominal breaths lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed.
- Make time for self-reflection by journaling. Writing out your thoughts and feelings can be very cathartic.
- Write down your priorities and set some boundaries. This can help you feel more in control, and let you see where you might need to make some changes for better balance between work, family time, and self-care.
- Seek a support group or counseling. We need to remember we are never alone, and that seeking help from a group, therapist, or even a friend or veterinarian is incredibly beneficial for our emotional stability.
Using your five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) is a way to experience mindfulness and is invigorating for both health and happiness.
A POSITIVE SPIRIT
It’s not always easy, but maintaining a positive spirit is good for both your own well-being and your dog’s quality of life.
- Learn how to do meditation. It’s deeply relaxing and helps cultivate patience and self-awareness. Even five minutes of meditation a day can make a big difference to your attitude and outlook.
- Practice mindfulness techniques to help you stay in the present moment, without mourning the past or worrying about the future. Using your five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) is a way to experience mindfulness and is invigorating for both health and happiness.
- Start a gratitude journal — it’s good for the soul. Frequent reminders of who and what we are thankful for helps us feel more appreciation for life, and raises our spirits.
- Make time for absorbing and relaxing hobbies, or start a new one, such as coloring, scrapbooking, cooking or painting.
It’s very easy for caregivers to become emotionally and physically drained and depleted, and that’s not good for us — or our sweet senior dogs. Proper self-care is vital for maintaining your well-being and endurance, and for strengthening the bond with your best friend during the last years of his life.