“I am exhausted, this is a lot of work and I feel like I can’t do this anymore.”
We hear this a lot in our Facebook group Diabetic Dog Owners and guess what? It is valid and it is normal. Many of us are the primary or only caregiver for our diabetic dogs and it can be a lot of work, especially if they have more than one disease or illness.
We are tasked with giving insulin, something that most of us never did before diagnosis. We must ensure that they are eating and we must test blood glucose levels to safely give insulin. We weigh food, test urine for ketones, give supplements and other required medications.
And we worry! We worry if they don’t eat, we worry if they are panting oddly or sleep more than normal. We worry if they aren’t drinking enough water. We worry that we are not taking diligent care of our sweet pups.
We overthink. This is another thing that caregivers tend to do that is so tiring. “Did I do this right?” or “What if I had done that sooner?” or “What did I miss?”
I can go on and on. I am an overthinking caregiver. I raised three healthy humans so I never really had to deal with major health issues other than croup, RSV and chicken pox. There were broken bones and stitches required over the years but those things are temporary.
Lucy’s diagnosis of acute pancreatitis and diabetes was an eye opener to say the least. I understood pancreatitis in humans, I knew the very basics of type 1 diabetes in humans but that was it. The first six months after diagnosis I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I thought she was going to die while I was sleeping, I felt like she was never going to be at target levels or gain the lost weight, and I worried that she was never going to play again and then when she did I was worried she was going to go hypo. But over time with education, getting blood glucose levels in range and diet down I was able to relax more. While diabetes mellitus is not a “set it and forget it” disease it is very manageable once you get into a routine and have a basic knowledge of the disease.
Vacationing with a diabetic dog and a non-diabetic dog that has seizures was challenging, stressful and not relaxing at all so I stopped going. Having someone come into the house was not an option because when it came to Lucy’s care I was a bit of a control freak and understand this about myself so if I had gone away I would have just worried excessively.
After years of giving Lucy insulin and subcutaneous fluids I became very anxious when I thought of giving an injection. I have always been afraid of needles but overcame that quickly early in her diagnosis. I spoke with a couple people I know that have to give themselves daily injections and was assured that this is normal and can happen even if you have been giving injections for years, you can burnout from it. I pushed through it but at this point I knew that I was feeling pretty burnt out about being a caregiver. And then of course I felt guilty for being burnt out.
Then in October 2019 my non-diabetic Bella who had collapsed trachea and chronic bronchitis started to rapidly decline and she was diagnosed with CCD or dog dementia. By December she had these terrible nights where she would do the same thing over and over. One night she would bark to go potty, I would carry her to her potty pad, she would walk over to the water bowl and drink some water, she would then walk into a corner and just get stuck there so I would pick her up and put her back in her bed. This went on for hours. I was tired, I wanted to go to sleep, but MOSTLY I just wanted my little girl to relax and go to sleep…I felt like this was torture for her.
The entire month of December 2019 was extremely stressful, I went from managing Bella’s illnesses to hospice care, and I knew that the end was quickly approaching. Between caring for Bella and Lucy and the constant dread I felt, it was exhausting. We lost Bella on December 30, 2019. Within weeks of losing Bella Lucy had started to decline and I thought it was just Lucy grieving for Bella. In February 2020 we took Lucy to the vet’s and blood work and urinalysis confirmed kidney failure. Back to hospice care, this time for Lucy when I quickly realized that no matter what I did for it was not going to prolong her life in a healthy or positive way for HER. I did everything I could for her but had to say goodbye to Lucy on March 16, 2020.
I was a caregiver for 4.5 years and would do it again in a heartbeat but I did burn out and I look back and think about the times that I really was burnt out. I spoke to a couple friends about it but not at length because I felt guilty for being tired and weary. I felt guilty for taking time out for myself. I had to learn that it was OKAY to separate a bit of “Michelle time” out to care for my own needs.
You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
Take care of yourself! Take breaks! Do something you enjoy, whether it is bingeing a silly comedy series, knitting, coloring, gardening, demolishing that wall or sewing. Buy that fuzzy blanket or the pretty blouse. Go eat a meal out and have someone else cook and clean. If you want to go on a vacation or a date get a couple reliable sources lined up to take over for you. Vet techs will come to your house and care for your diabetic dog for a fee. Talk to like-minded people about how you are feeling. Family and friends are great, but they may not understand the level of care you give your dog and that is okay; we cannot force others to think like us. If you are in a diabetic dog group, post about your stress or burnout…most of us get it and will sympathize and give you suggestions.
And no matter what, do not let anyone tell you to suck it up or it is just a dog. I don’t care if you are a caregiver to a furry animal or a human, caregiver burnout is real whether they have two legs or four. For many of us our dogs ARE our children and we do just as much for them as we do our humans.
Be kind to yourself and please reach out and remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Until next week stay comfy, cool and caffeinated!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please start a conversation below.
~ Michelle Miller-Matlock
AAHA Certified Diabetes Educator
Administrator of Diabetic Dog Owners on Facebook
Founder/Administrator of DDO: Diabetic Dog Owners University
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