Prioritizing Your Mental Health While Caring for a Dog with Disabilities

Special needs pitbull plays on the beach in wheelchair

Dogs can do wonders for your mental health. Studies have shown that they reduce stress, help with anxiety, and boost self-confidence. Aside from that, they offer constant companionship and unconditional love. When you have a dog, it’s nearly impossible not to see them as an integral part of the family.

Unfortunately, when your four-legged friend has disabilities, it can take a toll on your mental health rather than giving it a boost.

The constant need for care and assistance can be a burden on your life in many ways. It’s hard to cope when you see your furry friend struggling, and you might be dealing with financial issues as you pay for expensive vet bills to keep them going.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to prioritize your mental health when you have a dog with disabilities. By finding healthy coping mechanisms and multiple ways to achieve peace of mind, you’ll be able to enjoy your canine companion without constantly focusing on the stress and sadness their conditions might cause.

Keeping Your Dog Safe

Happy wheelchair dog plays in the fall leaves

One of the best things you can do to ease your mind is to ensure your dog’s safety in its surroundings. Chances are, they’ll spend most of their time at home, so do what you can to create an environment as secure as possible. Things like soft furnishings, rugs, carpeted floors, and open spaces can make it easier for them to get around safely.

If you cannot change your whole house, consider having a safe room or safe space for your dog to retreat to, especially if you’re not home and want to ensure they’re comfortable. That room should include things like:

  • A crate
  • Noise prevention
  • Food and water
  • A comfortable bed/blanket
  • Some of their favorite toys

It should also be easily accessible for your dog, especially if they have mobility issues. If you work from home and can be around your furry friend all day, you might want their safe space to be in your home office so you can keep an eye on them and have even greater peace of mind.

Of course, there are some cases in which your dog will have to leave home. Maybe they feel good enough to go to the local park, or you have to load them into the car for a vet visit. Make sure your vehicle is just as safe and secure as your house. Help them with a pet ramp and consider using a carrier or crate for smaller dogs or a barrier for larger dogs. The last thing you want is for them to get jostled around on the drive.

Disabled Husky in new Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
Dog uses rear support harness for weak back legs
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
German Shepherd combo harness for leg support
Walkin’ Combo Harness

Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms

It can be tough to watch an animal you love struggle. While the relationship between you and your dog is different from a pet-vet relationship, you might want to take a page from veterinarians when it comes to finding ways to cope.

Think about it. Vets must deal with illnesses, disabilities, and even death daily. Even if they don’t have a personal connection to the animals, they’re treating, that stress can take a heavy toll on their mental well-being. Unfortunately, that kind of stress has contributed to increased mental health conditions in veterinarians and even an increased risk of suicide.

Many veterinarians have adopted coping mechanisms to help them deal with the difficult situations they see each day to combat those negative effects. Consider talking to your dog’s vet about what you can do to cope, or research different stress management techniques, including:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Affirmations

One thing to be aware of is the risk of falling into unhealthy coping mechanisms. While it might hurt to see your four-legged friend in pain or struggling to lead an everyday life, remember that they need you to be present and focused on giving them the best care possible. Don’t turn to things like alcohol or damaging behaviors to deal with the stress of your dog’s disability.

Practice Self-Care

When you’re a pet owner, putting your animal’s needs first is not uncommon. Again, they’re part of the family, and being a “pet parent” naturally makes you want to care for them before you take care of yourself.

However, you can’t properly care for your dog if you’re mentally (or physically) depleted. Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary to be a good pet owner and to devote extra time and attention to your canine companion.

Schedule Some Me Time

Wheelchair dog and owner relax on the beach

Take time to do things for yourself every day. That could include picking up a new hobby, spending time with friends or family, or being physically active. You might even benefit from a dedicated “self-care” day once in a while. This means leaving your dog with a qualified pet sitter and spending a few extra hours relaxing and recharging your batteries. Finding a pet sitter when you have a dog with disabilities might seem like a challenge, but plenty of people out there have the right experience. Be clear with your expectations and your dog’s needs, choose people with specific skills and experience, and don’t hesitate to have them meet your furry friend with you, so you can make sure it’s a good fit for everyone.

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or luxurious. Something as simple as reading a good book or taking a relaxing bath can make a difference in your stress levels and help you to manage your mental health. By prioritizing self-care each day, you’ll have more energy to care for your dog and won’t feel as burnt out by their personal needs.

While it can be stressful to care for a dog with disabilities, you shouldn’t compromise your mental health to provide them with everything they need. By striking a balance between their daily care and your mental wellness, you can reduce stress levels, provide the care your dog needs, and hopefully enjoy many more years of love and companionship together.

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Guest Author:
Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer and pet parent from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for animal rights and search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.

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