Coping with the impending loss of a pet is one of the most difficult experiences a pet owner will face. Whether your furry friend is approaching his golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s important to calmly guide the end-of-life experience and minimize any discomfort or distress. As your pet’s health declines, you may elect to care for your pet at home—with the supervision of a veterinarian—or you may decide to end his suffering with euthanasia.
Whatever course you choose, you’re not alone—Adorable Pets Veterinary Center is here to help. Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about making your pet’s final days peaceful and dignified.
My Pet Is Elderly and Will Soon Pass Away. How Can I Make My Home More Comfortable for Him?
The most important thing you can do for your elderly pet is to minimize any pain or distress he’s experiencing at the end of his life. First, be sure to consult with your veterinarian and treat any health problems, since undiagnosed issues can cause discomfort and rapid deterioration.
Make your pet feel secure by surrounding him with his favorite things, like a warm blanket or special squeaky toy. Since pressure sores can develop in pets with limited mobility, it’s also essential to provide a warm sleeping spot with plenty of cushioning.
Some older pets may develop incontinence, or the loss of bladder control, so be sure to check your furry friend regularly for any wetness or soiling. If your pet needs help getting up to urinate or defecate, you can purchase a sling or use a large towel to wrap under his body to assist him.
What Determines a Good Quality of Life for My Pet?
Does your pet seem irritable, restless or confused?
Has he lost his appetite or does he drink water excessively?
Does he avoid his favorite activities?
Is your pet picked on by other animals in the home? This can happen when a sick or elderly dog becomes the weakest member of the “pack.”
Does he seek out unusual places to sleep or hide?
When your pet’s quality of life deteriorates due to an untreatable disease or aging, we can speak with you about end of life issues.
How Can I Tell if My Pet Is in Pain?
When cats and dogs are suffering, they may not show outward signs that we normally associate with pain like whimpering or crying. Sometimes an animal will continue to eat or drink in spite of pain, panting or disorientation. Some physiological and behavioral signs that your pet might be experiencing pain include:
excessive panting or gasping for breath
reluctance to move
If you’re unsure of how much your pet is suffering, keep a daily record of good days and bad days.
Are There Any Behavioral Changes I Might See in My Sick Pet or Other Pets in the Household?
Irregular behavior patterns are often the first sign that your pet is ill or in pain. A pet may lose his normal activity levels, appetite and grooming tendencies, or he may exhibit inappropriate elimination, vocalization and aggression.
Other healthy pets in the household may experience similar abnormal behaviors as a reaction to the changes and distress of your sick animal companion. Be sure to get regular check-ups for all of your pets to monitor and protect against any undiagnosed issues.
What Are Some At-Home Pain Management Options for My Elderly Pet?
If you suspect your pet is in pain, please make an appointment with us for a physical examination and consultation. We can help you decide the pain management protocol for your pet’s specific condition. For pain due to arthritis, for example, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug may be prescribed, but only after blood tests ensure that your pet does not have kidney or liver problems that would preclude using this type of medication. We can also incorporate Acupuncture, Laser Therapy and Chinese Herbs as part of their care. If your pet has more severe pain, due to a chronic illness like cancer, we may prescribe a narcotic pain killer in the form of an oral medicine or a patch that is placed on the skin.
What Is Pet Hospice Care and What Are Its Benefits? What Are the Goals of Pet Hospice Care?
Hospice care—also called palliative care—is an option for pet owners who want to engage in an extended good-bye or are opposed to euthanasia. Pet hospice is an option if your pet is suffering from a terminal illness and a cure is not possible. The focus is to make a pet’s final days or weeks more pleasant with the proper use of pain medications, dietary strategies and human interaction. Pet hospice is not a place, but a personal choice and philosophy based on the principle that death is a part of life and can be dignified. The goal of pet hospice is not to cure your pet’s illness but rather to ensure a peaceful end-of-life experience.
Is Hospice Care the Right Course for My Pet?
Although hospice care is a growing area of veterinary medicine, we need to be very careful not to prolong the suffering of pets who are in pain or experiencing poor quality of life. It is very difficult to face losing a pet, but our choices must not be clouded by fear of the grief we will experience.
What Role Do I Play in My Pet's Hospice Care?
Hospice care requires an active commitment from pet owners, who work with their veterinary team to make sure their pet’s life ends comfortably. Your pet will require your constant supervision—from assessing his condition to pain management or, if necessary, making the final decision to opt for euthanasia.
If you decide pet hospice care is the right course for you and your pet, you will become your pet’s primary nurse and caregiver, as well as the link between your pet and us.
What Is Euthanasia?
Euthanasia provides a painless, peaceful end for a pet who would otherwise continue to suffer. During the procedure, we will inject your pet with a sedative followed by a special medication. The animal experiences no awareness of the end of life—the process is akin to undergoing general anesthesia for a surgical procedure and takes about 10 to 20 seconds.
How Do I Know When Is the Right Time to Euthanize My Pet?
We can advise you on when the time is right to euthanize—information from medical tests is often more accurate than what a pet owner can observe, and pet owners often delay the moment of euthanasia in anticipation of grief.
Observing and keeping an accurate record of your pet in his daily activities can help you to decide. If you observe that moments of discomfort outweigh his capacity to enjoy life, it is time to euthanize, even if your pet still experiences pleasure in eating or socializing. If your pet is in pain, your main goal should be to minimize his suffering.
Will My Other Pets Grieve a Pet Who Has Passed Away?
After the loss of a companion animal, many people observe a change in their surviving pet’s behavior. Sometimes the pet appears depressed and shows diminished interest in play or food, and it often helps to simply give your surviving pet some extra attention and love. If your animal companion appears upset, check with us to make sure there is no underlying medical problem causing his behavior.
It is also well-documented that pets can recognize death in a companion animal. Cats, dogs and horses who see the deceased body of an animal they knew can adjust very well and spend less time searching and grieving than pets who have not seen their companion’s remains.
There is nothing more heartbreaking as seeing you family pet in pain. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has released Pain Management Guidelines that we have implemented at Adorable Pets Veterinary Center. These guidelines were created to recognize, classify, and treat pain. Our staff is trained to recognize and classify pain. Whenever possible we will treat pain before it occurs. This preemptive pain management is important during surgery or any painful treatment because it requires less medication and makes your pet more comfortable and is safer.
Many pets instinctively hide their pain as a survival mechanism, which in the past lead to incorrect assumptions about a pet’s ability to feel pain. We have learned how to recognize and manage pain in pets. Many pets experiencing pain will change their behavior patterns instinctively. Remember that a good general rule of thumb is that if some injury/medical condition would hurt you, it most likely hurts them.
Although signs may be subtle, careful observation will often reveal signs of pain. The pet may be reluctant to climb stairs, decrease their activity level, or resist being held or picked up. Arthritic pain is common in older pets and can be witnessed when there is a struggle to rise or be unable to stand after lying down. You can imagine the discomfort and pain these pets must endure.
Other signs of pain include:
Whimpering, vocalizing, or becoming quiet, withdrawn and inactive
Aggressiveness, holding ears flat against the head
Increased licking of the affected areas
Reluctant to walk, run, climb stairs, jump or play
Stiffness or limping
Lagging behind in walks
Soreness when touched
Change in personality
At Adorable Pets Veterinary Center we can design a pain management program that can incorporate such treatments as: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), Opioids, Chinese Herbs, Acupuncture, Laser Therapy and diet modifications.