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Caring for your cat can be an intense, demanding, and time-consuming experience. We want to give our cats the best care possible, whether they’re critically ill, not-so-critically ill, or facing the end of life. If you’re like me, you’ll pull out all the stops. Obviously, finances will have a limiting effect. Still, I know that some of us can be quite creative about providing care for our cats, even with financial constraints.

When you’re going through the intense caregiving process — for people, cats, or any loved one — it’s very easy to neglect yourself. This bears repeating. It’s very easy to forget about your own needs when you’re providing care for a loved person or animal companion. If you don’t pay attention to your own needs, how can you be there for your cat?

I’ll share what I’ve learned during intense caregiving for my animal companions — and I’ve done plenty of it. A lot of this is good common sense, but it never hurts to be reminded.

To take care of yourself when you’re a caregiver:

1. Start with the basics and attend to your health

Exercise, get outside and walk, eat good foods. Even if you only have time for a five-minute walk, run, or stretch, it will help your mental state. Drink plenty of water.

2. Sleep

Your body will tell you when it must rest. Listen to it.

3. Breathe

Yoga uses a deep diaphragmatic breath (inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose). Close your eyes and breathe for one, two, or five minutes. Let yourself go. You’ll be amazed at what this little effort will give you in the form of relaxation.

4. Get out of the situation for a while if possible

If someone can take over for a few hours or a day, get out of the house, away from the animals or person. Take in different scenery. Let yourself think about something else. Release any worry. Do something good for yourself — a beautiful walk around a lake, a good cup of coffee, a massage, a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend, whatever works in your situation.

5. Talk about something different

When my father was at the end of his life, I was deep in the situation, helping him pass on. There were moments when I craved to just talk about something else — anything else — with someone not in the situation. I remember calling a girlfriend several states away. I wanted to hear what was going on in her life. I wanted to hear something normal, anything normal, even though I could barely put two sentences together because of exhaustion. Which leads me to the next point …

6. Be easy on yourself

Even if you do get enough sleep, you may do some strange things. When I go through intense emotional situations (such as caring for my loved cats at the end of their lives), the repercussions are … interesting. Emotional intensity can be very tiring, even if you are getting enough sleep and eating right and trying to do all the common sense stuff that we know is good for us.

7. "Reframe instead of blame"

We second-guess ourselves during times of crisis. Mind chatter such as "I didn’t catch this in time …" "I should have done this, this or this," "I should have gone to a different vet," etc. is not necessarily helpful or productive. We do the best we can with what we have.

Being a caregiver for an animal companion is a high calling, in my opinion, so I think it makes good sense to honor yourself with good self-care, when needed.

What are your tips for caring for your cats? What have you learned during the process of cat caregiving? Share your thoughts!

This is an expanded excerpt from Catherine Holm’s new memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, available at

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