end of life

END OF LIFE

Coping with the impending loss of a pet is one of the most difficult experiences a pet parent will face. Whether your furry friend is approaching their golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s important to calmly guide the end-of-life experience and minimise 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 their suffering with euthanasia.

Some pets do pass peacefully on their own, but in many cases, the will to survive keeps a pet going long past the point of experiencing good quality of life. While recent advances in veterinary medicine are nothing short of amazing, remember that just because you can prolong life doesn't mean it's in your pet's best interest to do so.

Most of the factors around aging and death are beyond our control, but the one thing you are able to do for your pet is alleviate undue pain and suffering. Arguably, no other decision you make about your pet will be as difficult as the one to euthanase, but in so many cases, it is the only humane option.

How to know it's time

If there's ever a time to put your pet's welfare ahead of your own needs, this is it. While the idea of living without your beloved pet can be devastating, the thought of them suffering should feel even worse. So in considering what to do, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your pet have a terminal illness? Ask your veterinarian what to expect at the next stage and then ask whether you're prepared to go there.

  • Is your pet in the kind of pain that cannot be significantly alleviated by medication?

  • Will more treatment improve quality of life, or simply maintain a poor quality of life?

  • Can you afford treatment? End-of-life care can run into thousands of dollars, and people can end up prolonging their grieving while paying off credit cards.

  • Has your pet lost most bodily functions? If they can no longer stand up, get down stairs, defecate, and urinate on their own, their quality of life is pretty poor.

  • Does he still want to eat? Loss of appetite can be due to pain, nausea or depression.

  • Does your pet hide away in unusual places?

  • Does your pet seem irritable, restless or confused, unable to find a comfortable position?

  • Is your pet avoiding activities that they would normally do?

  • Is it in his best interest to extend his life, or are you extending his life for yourself? This last point is the most difficult one for most of us to sort out, but it may well be the most relevant.

Make a list, or two

This is something you can do with your family as your pet gets older or after your pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness. It is best done when you are calm and have time to think clearly. A quality of life list includes all those little things that your pet does every day. For example:

  • He loves to eat.

  • He likes to play ball.

  • He has to chase the birds that land in the back yard.

  • He likes to go for walks.

  • He likes to be petted by children.

  • He chases the postman.

  • He likes large groups of people and dogs.

  • He loves going in the car.

  • He comes with me to hang out the washing.

How many points do you think your pet needs to enjoy life? Once you have decided this (and this may just be a number you pull out of thin air) you have an indicator of when your pet has lost quality of life, and you can be sure that the decision to euthanase is the right one for your pet. Because as your pet stops doing these things they enjoy, they are telling you they have lost quality of life. Another list with factors such as pain, vomiting,senility, or a lack of bodily function and control, should also be made and if these occur then euthanasia is required.

Next, decide how much money you can afford to spend on veterinary care. Make a decision, write it down, and stick to your plan because you may make decisions under emotional duress that aren't wise. The emotions surrounding this decision are mixed and complicated. To do what's best for our pets, we need to realistically assess the criteria without allowing emotion to overwhelm the decision-making process.

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. Some signs that your pet might be experiencing pain include:

  • excessive panting or gasping for breath

  • not being able to settle or get comfortable

  • hiding or spending time in unusual places

  • reluctance to move, inability to get up

  • decreased or loss of appetite

  • aggression

If you’re unsure of how much your pet is suffering, keep a daily record of good days and bad days. If there are more bad than good days then your pet needs more pain relief or euthanasia.

What is involved with the euthanasia process? What should I expect? Can I be there?

Euthanasia is by administering an over dose of anaesthetic. (So your pet will go to sleep before it actually dies.) The injection must be given into the vein so a nurse will need to hold your pet for you but you are welcome to be there to comfort your pet and talk to them through the procedure. What most people are not prepared for is how quickly the euthanasia solution works; death occurs in just a few seconds. You'll probably feel your pet relax, they may lick their lips, or they may have a big stretch, and then it's over. Sometimes your pet may gasp, which sounds like them taking a big breath. The nerves can twitch, which may cause quite significant movement. Sometimes the pet urinates. These are involuntary reflex actions and aren't painful, this only occurs after death and there is nothing we can give your pet to prevent this happening, we understand that they can be disturbing to watch. Unlike in the movies, your pet's eyes will not close as the natural relaxed state is for the eyelids to be open. It is actually very difficult to close a pets eyes after death. The vet will check to ensure your pets heart has stopped beating.

If you wish to be with your pet you are most welcome, many people feel that being with their pets to say goodbye during the process is best for them however some people are unable to face the final stage and we understand this too. Only you can decide what is right for you. Small children may not understand the procedure but older children often need to be there to feel involved with the decision and help come to terms with their loss.

We will try to make an appointment for you when less other clients are around to give you more time and privacy. Euthanasia can be done at home however this requires more time, and a nurse needs to attend also and therefore flexibility is greatly reduced.

Burial options

Even though you may feel you can't make any more decisions, try deciding beforehand what you will do with your pet afterwards. There are three options:

  1. You can take your pet home for burial; we can wrap your pet in its favourite blanket if you like or you can have them placed in an authorised body bag or in small a biodegradable casket. Decorative boxes are suitable for small pets and are good as children can add trinkets or mementos to bury with the pet.

  2. We can take care of your pet and arrange burial.

  3. We can arrange for your pet to be cremated. There are a number of scatter tins or urns for your pet to be returned to you in, you can have engraving done or even add photos.

Grief:

Grief is very real, and everyone feels it differently. Whilst you are welcome to contact us at any time, we recommend contacting your doctor or experienced grief counsellors.

Lifeline:131114 suicide helpline 1300651251

Mensline:1300789978 kids helpline 1800551800

Griefline (12pm-3am) 0399357400

or: petpages.com.au (under services – loss grief counselling),

petmemories.com.au

our wonderfulpets.com,

rspcavic.org(under services,grieving for a lost pet)