Whether we are doing the research by ourselves or having the conversation with our family, making end-of-life choices are understandably difficult. Luckily there are resources and information available to all of us. Our veterinarian is an experienced source of information and perspective. Family and close friends will be a resource for insights and opinions. And even our fur-baby can provide signals and will communicate in their own way when they have needs. In Part Three of this series, we talk about observing pain, calculating suffering, and choosing hospice care or euthanasia. While it may be an uncomfortable task, planning ahead and understanding our choices will alleviate much of the anxiety and tension that can compound an already emotional time.
For those of us who missed Part One, we discussed the early signs of suffering, and supplements as an essential way to extend the life of our fur-babies. In Part Two we covered the ways we can elect to care for our senior dogs and cats through their twilight years. Now we’re providing some insight into how we can evaluate timing, and the choices we have available to us to provide a comfortable, dignified passing for our companion animals.
How To Know When It’s Time
Quality of life is central to this discussion. It can be tough to know whether we need to apply pain management treatments, want to be trained in hospice care, or whether euthanasia is the best option. Knowing when to make the call is something all guardians struggle with. If our pet is experiencing discomfort, this needs to be taken just as seriously as pain. For example, cats and dogs who are often vomiting and can’t seem to keep anything down with no expectation of recovery, are presenting a level of discomfort that should be taken seriously. If they have limited mobility and are faced with the need to relieve themselves often, this can be a growing source of pain and discomfort. If they are incontinent or experience regular anal leakage, they may often end up with wetness or other biological material on themselves and their bed. This not only presents a health challenge but limits the dignity of their senior years and ultimate passing.
General disinterest or being more clingy than usual, seeming irritable, restlessness, confusion or seeming disoriented are also indicators. Finding unusual places to sleep or rest should also be noted. Some cats and dogs may end up being picked on by their pack because they are seen as the weak one. In all of these cases, the best thing to do is find out whether it’s because of an illness that can be treated, or if it is because they are beginning a downhill road.
Some pet guardians describe a sense of knowing when the time arrived to choose euthanasia instead of waiting for a natural death. Others describe a knowing look their pet gives them that is accompanied by a sense of understanding. Still, others choose to logically evaluate the experience of their pet and the family to make a decision. Whatever happens, know this is a time for compassion and be prepared for the range of emotions that may be felt among everyone. We should remain diligent in focusing on our pet to give them a compassionate and dignified goodbye.
What To Know About Hospice Care
Also called palliative care, for humans this is a nursing home type of environment that ensures our loved ones get the kind of attentive 24-hour care they need to live out their final days and pass comfortably. For our pets, this is not a place, but a personal choice about how we’ll tend to our companion animal through their final weeks or days until they pass naturally. A veterinarian would train us to administer pet meds, change bandages, provide fluids, keep our pet clean and comfortable, and other nursing functions. If we can afford it, we may elect to hire a technician to visit our home and administer medications or check on our cat or dog’s well-being on top of our own 24-hour attention.
It’s important to note that hospice care is strictly for their end of life. It is a time when services and medications are focused on comfort, not a cure. Pet guardians still opt for euthanasia when suffering becomes too great. Many choose hospice because it offers a longer life and an extended goodbye, but we should all be careful not to choose this option for ourselves and our need to keep our pet with us longer. Being able to observe prolonged suffering can sometimes be clouded by our grief and unwillingness to make the difficult decision for euthanasia.
What To Know About Euthanasia
Euthanasia is a painless, peaceful, and gentle death. We should all discuss the procedure with our vet and set up expectations with any family who are attending. This is also the time to decide where the procedure will take place and who will be in attendance. Some pet guardians choose to have a vet come to their house so their fur baby can pass in the comfort of their own home. Others choose the vet office but will bring a favorite toy or blanket to keep elements of familiarity nearby. This is especially important for pets who are already nervous or afraid of vet visits. Decide who will be present. Most pets have a single guardian with whom they have bonded more than anyone else. This may be a child or adult, but whomever that companion is, the discussion needs to happen so there aren’t too many, or unsupportive people present. In many cases, a child decides they want to be present because a disappearance is more difficult than seeing the procedure and saying goodbye.
The procedure should be clearly understood before the appointment. Usually, a sedative is injected so our fur-baby will be calm, relaxed, and generally unaware of the next step. Then the vet will insert an intravenous catheter to administer what is essentially a large overdose of anesthesia. This process takes approximately 10-20 seconds as our dog or cat slips into a deep sleep, shuts down neural activity, and passes away. Sometimes our animals may lose bladder or bowel control as their body relaxes. This is painless and normal. Our pups and kitties are not aware of what is happening at this point and have already passed beyond the ability to comprehend what their body is doing.
These choices are never easy, and while there may be differences of opinion, it’s only because these choices are very personal ones. The final word really comes from our cat and canine companions as it really comes down to what’s best for them. Watch for Part Three, where we’ll be discussing what to do once our sweet fur babies have passed and how to deal with grief.