In our profession, we frequently get asked “is it time?” or “am I doing the right thing?”. It’s such a difficult question to answer as every pet and every family is unique. We can see one dog with Stage 4 kidney failure that is happy and active, and another in Stage 3 that has given up the will to carry on. So when we are assessing quality of life, it is a very personal and variable thing.
What we discuss with every family when that time comes falls into 3 categories:
- Pet Health:
- Is the illness my pet is experiencing terminal, or can it get better? Sometimes we must do extra testing to find and answer on prognosis (average amount of time we have left with our pet). Getting the “complete picture” can help make an informed decision.
- How old is my pet? We need to take into account a realistic life expectancy: A 13 year old Labrador is much older in reality than a cat at 13 years. Life expectancy averages for Labrador dogs is around 12, cats is 16 years.
- Pet Personality:
- Appetite: Most pets (just like most people), have favorite snacks. Determining how much your pet loved food in his/her “prime” and comparing it on a daily basis to your current situation can give you insight on how well your pet is feeling. Most animals stop eating when they are declining.
- Behavior: Every pet has a unique personality – a favorite toy, a traditional behavior, a favorite nap location. As they become ill, these behaviors change. They tend to become more listless and are unable to play or interact the way they did before.
- Cleanliness: The ability to distinguish between “bathroom” locations and sleeping/playing areas is well trained into our domesticated pets. The lack of this distinction, the inability to wait/make it to their regular area or the inability to clean themselves is not a healthy or normal condition.
- Nursing Care/Family Concerns: Unfortunately, Medicare does not extend to our pets. This is a reality we must factor into our decision-making process. It is not something we should feel guilty about, as it is critical in deciding what is best for our pet. The goal is to prevent suffering and not “suffer through it” and this goes for all members of the family, be them human or furry.
- Finances: Have a frank discussion about how much you can realistically afford. This is an unfortunate reality, but knowing before going in can help make some hard decisions.
- Nursing Care: There are no retirement communities for our fur family, so that leaves you to perform some tasks that in the human world are reserved for nurses and trained caregivers. Our staff can help train and provide education for your pet’s particular condition, but deciding how much time and energy you can invest in your pet’s day-to-day care is variable. Having both you and your pet unhappy, sleep deprived and ill is NOT a healthy way to survive, emotionally or physically.
There are two Quality of Life Scales that are frequently used to help decide when to end your pet’s suffering.
When you do make the decision to help your pet end his/her suffering, there are a few final decisions to make.
- Do I want to be present when my pet passes?
- Your pet will not be alone; we are here for them every step of the way. It is up to you if you would also like to be there.
- We always give a sedative beforehand. This decreases the stress on your pet and alleviates any pain they may be in.
- They can have muscle twitching, vocalization, release of bowels and abnormal posture as they pass. it is just their system shutting down and is a normal body function, but it can be quite scary. They do not feel any pain.
- What do I want to do with my pet’s remains?
- If you have a location for burial outside of city limits, we can release your pet’s body to you.
- We can take care of your pet’s remains or
- You can request a private cremation and have your pet’s ashes returned to you. These services are provided by Forget Me Not Aftercare, whom we have selected as they are compassionate, respectful, timely and reputable.
There are also a large number of support groups for those that are mourning the loss of their furry family member. Please let us know if you need any help!
AVC Pet Loss Support Line: 1-902-388-0752, Sunday-Thursday 6:00pm-9:00pm. Messages left outside these hours will be returned during our next support line hours.
Written by Moncton Animal Clinic