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When your pet is sick

created at: 2010/09/23When your companion animal is diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness, you may feel a variety of emotions that are often overwhelming. Some people experience shock, disbelief, confusion, fear, sadness, anger, guilt, or helplessness. These emotions are normal and understandable responses to the realization that your special friend is ill.

When you are overwhelmed, it can be very hard to act and behave in ways you normally do. People who are feeling overwhelmed often report that they cannot think straight or feel like they are in a fog. Everyday activities can seem difficult, and your body might feel out of sorts (tightness in chest, headaches, appetite changes, and sleep disturbances). In the days and weeks to come, you will likely face stressful situations and tough decisions.

Here are a few strategies that may assist you:

Write things down

When you are given a lot of medical information and you have a lot of questions, it is hard to remember everything. Listing your questions and concerns may help you to keep things straight. Discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

Seek support

Talk to others who understand the relationship you have with your pet. Being with others who know what your pet means to you can be helpful. Talk to family members or others who may want to be involved in deciding your pet's care. For families with children, it is very important to include children in discussions and decision-making about the treatment and care of your animal.

Think about quality of life

You know your pet best and are the expert on what makes a quality life for him or her. Different animals have different personalities and tolerances. You know what these are. Think ahead of time about what is important for you and your pet and write these down.

We also encourage you to think about pain versus suffering. Pain is a physical sensation and can be evaluated and medicated by you and your veterinarian. Suffering is more difficult to define and can include such things as: inability to engage in daily routines, inability to interact with you, and inability to do the things that make your pet "who he or she is". These issues are important to address and are different for every animal and owner. There are no "wrong" answers here. Because you love your pet and want to do what is best for him or her, your instincts are important and should be explored. Spend time with your companion animal. Think about the weeks or months ahead and decide what will be important to you.

Take care of yourself

Helping a loved one through a serious or terminal illness is very stressful and tiring. You may focus so much of your energy on your pet that you neglect yourself and your health. Long-term neglect can lead to additional stress and can even result in you becoming ill. Monitor your own reactions and assure that you are caring for yourself as well as your animal. Find support in friends, family members, pet loss counsellors and support groups.

© Argus Institute
Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital

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