For us as pet parents, no matter how well we take care of our fur babies, eventually it comes time to say goodbye. It is a very emotional time, and is very personal for each owner as well as each pet. Some of the most commonly asked questions are touched on in this blog. If you have any questions or concerns about your pet, or would like more advice, please call us or book an appointment online for us to see your pet for a consultation on their quality of life and options to keep them comfortable for as long as possible.
“How will I know it is time?”
The answer is, “It is different every time.”
Unfortunately we cannot make the decision for you, but we can help you to evaluate a few things more objectively and answer some questions which may help you decide.
“Is my pet in pain/suffering?”
With an exam, we may be able to tell you based on your pet’s individual diagnosis whether or not your pet is suffering or in pain. Elderly pets may not be suffering per se, as aging is usually not painful by itself, but the diseases that come with age may be painful. They may suffer ailments that may be helped with special diets and medications to improve their quality of life. There is no need for them to be uncomfortable just because they are old. For example: an older cat may not need to waste away as in the days of old, as things like thyroid disease are treatable. With medications, the symptoms of thyroid disease can even be reversed to an extent. The same goes for older dogs. They need not limp around or suffer stiff joints due to arthritis (which cats suffer as well!). We have many medications to try to help your arthritic pet have more comfortable days moving forward. Unfortunately, there will be some pets who have an illness or who have aged to the point that their quality of life cannot be maintained or is deteriorating, and with a consultation, we can help you to determine where your pet is on the spectrum of quality of life.
One of the most common signs your pet may be suffering is their inability to eat or drink. Most pets LOVE meal time, and when they cannot or no longer want to eat, starvation is most assuredly a suffering death if it is prolonged. Some terminal patients will eat up until a day or two before they pass on their own, but if they haven’t eaten in a few days it may be time to have a quality of life consultation and possibly be ready to say goodbye.
Water is also very necessary to life, and if a pet has lost the ability to drink or hold down water, dehydration can also cause suffering if prolonged.
“Is seeking medical advice worth it?”
You betcha! Imagine yourself being put in a nursing home, simply because your thyroid was off or you had arthritis. There is no need to skimp on finding a diagnosis for an elderly or ill patient. Blood work, x-rays, ultrasounds and other modern diagnostic tools are key to discovering the health/comfort level of your pet. We can’t help your pet if we can’t discover what is ailing them. Some issues are treatable, or it could be determined a major illness is present, and your pet may be suffering more than you thought.
We can help you decide as well if the medical issues your pet is facing is something you can help manage or not. For larger patients, mobility may be an issue: helping a chihuahua get down stairs is much easier than assisting a great dane. There are harness systems and other methods we can teach you about which may help keep your pet comfortable for week/months/years to come. Other issues, such as incontinence, may have a solution that we can come up with together, as some types of incontinence can be treated, while others can only be managed. We can help you to know all your options.
“My dog/cat doesn’t seem to enjoy things like they once did. I’m not sure they are enjoying life.”
This may or may not be a reason to euthanize. A dog or cat who once used to love to play with toys and run may not feel like doing so any longer. For these pets, an exam is definitely in order. There may be a reason for their lack of interest, and with diagnostics, we may be able to get them back to their old tricks! Some pets may need encouragement in their older years to keep them engaged. Getting new toys for them, engaging in different games with slightly lower impact on arthritic joints (like puzzle toys and hide and seek treat games), and changing the pace of life may be all that’s needed to get a pet to reengage with the family. Like our own older generation, aged pets may prefer their version of a crossword puzzle more than a rousing game of football. Although it is something they enjoyed in their youth, they may have lost interest or simply may no longer be physically able to do some things. This doesn’t mean they are suffering or have no quality of life; it just may mean more work on your part to keep them engaged. It’s almost like the reverse of having a puppy or kitten. Puppies and kittens need hours of play and they most often seek out the attention of their owners. Senior pets need hours of play which they may need to be encouraged by their owners.
Other times, there may be a significant reason a pet is retreating from family life. If we cannot use engagement/enrichment methods and medications to help bring them back out to enjoy their time around family, then it may be time to consider an end of life plan. If a pet truly cannot feel well enough by any means to enjoy anything they used to (ie food, toys, being around their favorite people, etc), then we consider their quality of life to be poor. Sometimes a daily diary can be helpful to see good days versus bad days, and may help you determine a little more objectively how much they seem to be engaging in their favorite things.
“I’ve never had to have a pet euthanized before, I don’t think I can do this!
There are many other aspects to consider beyond the above when deciding whether or not to euthanize your pet. Some owners do not want to part with a pet because they know the emotional trauma is going to be more than they can handle, but most will admit they do not want to prolong suffering. There are others who do not want or who cannot accept the financial burden or time burden of a terminally ill pet. Some terminally ill patients will need around the clock care that can be very expensive, this may be impossible for many owners both due to time and money constraints.
There are several things we can do to keep a pet comfortable until an owner can decide, such a giving fluids and medications until the owner can make a decision; but these are palliative measures, and are meant to bring comfort for the short term only. Veterinary medicine cannot restore a new heart in an end stage heart failure patient, nor give them new organs that may be failing or are so deteriorated they have no chance of recovery. There are some illnesses and cancers that don’t have a good prognosis as well. We wish we could fix them all, but unfortunately some things are not fixable. Delivering the news to a pet parent that their pet is in chronic pain and/or is terminal is truly the most agonizing part of a veterinary practice. As pet lovers, we do know the pain of loss and our goal is to always make sure no animal suffers.
“I am totally against euthanasia, is that OK? Are there things that can be done to help keep my pet comfortable until they pass on their own?”
Humane euthanasia is certainly an individual decision, and recommendation for it will be based on quality of life for the pet and pet parents and belief system of the family. As a veterinary practice, we always prefer a quality of life over quantity of life, but we’d never tell you you MUST euthanize.
There are actually pet hospice practices that specialize in these cases and can help you, again on a case by case basis. They will assist your needs as well as try to keep your pet as comfortable as possible until the inevitable end. There is no judgement against you for not wanting to euthanize your pet, but no expense should be spared ensuring your pet’s last days and moments are made comfortable and the pet free from suffering.
There is no need to tackle such an undertaking of saying goodbye to your companion alone and without the support of a hospice program. While Blue Door Veterinary Services can act as a hospice program, there are other in home services which specialize in hospice care, so we can discuss your desires and may refer you to one of our colleagues to get the best end of life care for your pet possible.
Grief and How Planning Can Help:
Grief for pet owners actually starts at the discovery that your beloved pet is ill and dying. No one wants to think about that day. Unfortunately, our pets live shorter lives than ours, so the chances of having to make that decision at some point are relatively high for every pet owner.
We recommend you have a discussion with your family and anyone responsible for the care/well-being of your pet. Making sure everyone is on the same page with regards to opinions on humane euthanasia versus hospice care is important before the last moments. Look into options, so you can have a few plans in place before they are needed. Sometimes in times of stress it is hard to make decisions about whom to call or what to do, so having that conversation early is important.
It is also important to have a good relationship with your veterinarian; as a team you will be better prepared to make a plan when it is time to make such a decision. It is a lot easier to discuss your pet with the veterinarian who already knows you and your pet and has been able to see your pet recently. It is fairly common practice for many pet owners to stop seeking medical attention for their pets as they age; however, we highly recommend not only annual checkups, but biannual checkups for your senior pets. It is much easier for us to have a quick chat with you about any changes you may be seeing at home and what consequences they may have if we are familiar with the aging changes your pet is experiencing. We can also stay ahead of some problems by identifying issues early and helping to change diets and medications as needed.
Instead of visiting the vet less in their golden years, the aging pet actually is most benefited with biannual checkups.
So get your pet their check-ups regularly, catch disease processes before they advance, and have a good relationship with your veterinarian. That way, when it is time to make plans for end of life care, and plan for the end of life visit, these can be made based on your pet’s individual needs.
Call or e-mail us today if you’d like a senior visit for your pet to discuss their health and begin the planning process so we can keep them around for as long as possible with good quality of life and comfort for their golden years.