“Death is not the extinguishing of the light… It is the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come” — Rabindranath Tagore
No one wants to think about their pet nearing the end of life. But because pets’ lives consist of far fewer years than humans’, their last years often arrive before we expect — or feel ready.
End of life care is a complex topic. Following are answers to common questions, and local resources for more help on the subject.
Dr. Louise Mesher of At Home Veterinary Services specializes in hospice care. She says end of life care encompasses many things and can be categorized as: Animals in their senior years approaching end of life, or animals at any age who have received a terminal diagnosis. End of life care encompasses the dying process, euthanasia, memorializing a pet, and grief support.
Things to consider: How to make your pet's last days peaceful
Tips from the ASPCA:
• The most important thing you can do for your elderly pet is minimize pain or distress. The goal is to make this time as pleasant and comfortable as possible, through medication, dietary strategies, and human interaction.
• Some older pets develop incontinence or loss of bladder control. Be watchful for wetness or soiling. If your pet needs help getting up to “go,” consider a sling, or large towel wrapped under the body to provide a handhold.
• Your veterinarian can teach you how to provide intensive home care to keep an ill pet as comfortable as possible. Hospice care requires an active commitment and constant supervision, with the assist of a veterinary team.
• If you opt for hospice care, you will become your pet’s primary nurse and caregiver, with the help of your veterinary team. Consult with your primary veterinarian to see if hospice care is suitable, based on your pet’s needs.
• Euthanasia provides a painless, peaceful end to suffering. There are many resources addressing when “It’s time,” and most veterinarians provide good sounding boards for discussion of this difficult question. Keep in mind: you know your pet best — trust your instincts.
HOSPICE OR EUTHANASIA
According to Dr. Mesher, it is important to recognize that hospice is not just about veterinary care — it is a whole support system that may include family, friends, pet sitters, veterinary technicians, complementary care providers (massage, physical therapy), people trained in grieving and pet loss support, and sometimes clergy. Every case is different in terms of the level of care needed by the pet, and the level of assistance or support needed by the pet parent.
Whether you choose to have euthanasia performed at home or at a clinic, It is important to know that the procedure will be done at the pace you and your animal dictate. The actual procedure is quite peaceful: unless there are extreme circumstances a sedation injection is given to relax your pet. Once you and your pet are ready, the final drug is given. It works very rapidly, only seconds in most cases. The veterinarian will then confirm that your pet has passed on. After, you may spend as much time as you need with your pet.
Mesher says the top questions she hears range from nursing care basics to hospice support. Here are some, along with answers.
Q Can I do this — provide the level of care needed?
A End of life care requires dedication, patience, support from friends and family, and time. The time demands can be unrealistic for some people, depending on the pet’s needs and medical status, and the pet parent’s available time and energy. It’s important to realize that it’s not all-or-nothing — this is a dynamic, evolving process, and changes along the way may necessitate changes.
Q Can I afford hospice?
A It depends. Some medications are expensive, and the process can be labor-intensive. Everyone’s situation is different. It is important for people to not feel judged or guilty about what they can or cannot provide. This is a delicate decision, and a tender time.
Q How to know when “it’s time?”
A Each case is unique, and opinions can differ, even amongst friends or family members. The answer is based on various factors, such as the animal’s quality of life, disease condition, and even history and/or philosophies of the owners. Mesher says it’s important to look at whether the pet is continuing to enjoy the things s/he valued in life, like eating or playing ball. There is a quality of life “scale” to consider, which can help weigh the question as things change.
MEMORIALIZING TAKES MANY FORMS
Just as with the dying process, people need to grieve and memorialize lost beloveds in their own time and way. Thankfully, there are countless options, from books on the topic that provide comfort, strength, and even guidance through the stages of grief, to memorials using ashes embedded in glass, jewelry pieces or clay, as well as frequent grief support workshops (free and low-cost) in the Northwest. Dignified Pet Services, in partnership with DoveLewis, hosts an annual Service of Remembrance and candlelighting in early December, DoveLewis offers free monthly grief support and memorial art workshops, and Pets Point of View offers monthly animal hospice support groups for those with aging or ailing pets or providing hospice care.
As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy atmylifewithdogspdx.com.