How Do You Care for Yourself When You’re Caring for Your Critically Ill Cat?


If you’ve ever cared for a critically ill or terminal cat, you know that it’s a heck of a lot of work. And still, the rest of life charges on. Even though your cat needs care, you need to go to work, other commitments need to be met, and, yes, you even need to take care of yourself (easier said than done, and easy to forget in the the avalanche of critical care duties).

I’m going through this right now with a cat with a cancerous facial tumor. All of a sudden the feeding, fluids, laundry, cleaning, and attention demands have amped up beyond belief. And, regular life goes on. Some days I can’t believe I’m doing everything I’m doing. Humans (and cats) are amazing when they put their mind to something.

No one makes a commitment like this without really really wanting it. The specifics about how to make such a decision are probably a good topic for a separate article. But I can talk about what I’ve learned and make some suggestions for how to navigate the rest of your life.

Here are five things to remember when you’re going through an intense caregiving process:

1. Care for yourself

It’s tough to think about yourself when you’re so focused on an ill cat and everything else life can throw at you. I know. Your own self-care may fall to the bottom of the pile. But like the oxygen mask metaphor on airplanes (put on your own mask before you assist your child), you can’t be there for your cat if you’re unhealthy, sleep-deprived, or a mess in some other way.

Be sure you take care of your needs, so that you can be present for yourself and for your cats. Even if it’s only five minutes of deep breathing, a quick walk outside, or a call on the phone to a good friend. Do what you can. It may not feel like a lot, and you may not have a lot of time, but it will make a difference in the big scope of things, and you will feel refreshed and better able to care for your cat.

2. Improvise and prioritize

Some things are going to change during an intense caregiving period. Improvise and let go the things that don’t matter so much, so that you can be there for your cat and yourself.

For instance, I normally love (some might say compulsively love) a picked-up living room. No way is that the case now. There’s a futon cushion in the middle of the floor, where I’ve slept with my cat every night for the past few months. Sleeping bags and a plushy fleece throw are strewn about, so that my cat can snuggle (which she loves) and stay warm. A litter box with plastic around it is nearby so that she can make it to the bathroom. I’m turning a blind eye to things that used to bother me. It’s interesting.

3. Say no

Think of this time as a great way to practice saying no to things that really don’t matter. Is sitting through a crummy movie the best use of my time right now? Probably not. Do I want to sign up for some commitment that I really can’t give any time and attention to now? No. So, that’s okay! You’ll have more time another day.

4. Say yes to what matters!

Whether it’s that walk that gets you out of the house for a moment, a quick workout, or something else to relieve the stress, say yes to it. You and your cat will both benefit. For instance, although I usually work much better in my office, I have brought my laptop into the house so that I can be with my cat. I’m getting a little less work done overall (and this is partly due to the immense demands of caregiving), but I’m gaining priceless time with my cat.

5. Try to find joy

If your cat is terminal, these may be your last tender times together. There’s joy here as well as sadness. Stay aware of this possibility, so that you can capture those funny and joyous moments. It makes the caregiving so worth it.

How do you take care of yourself when you’re intensely caring for your cat? Share your thoughts below!

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