End Of Life
Sometimes it seems like we blink and the puppy or kitten we brought home is now grey in the muzzle and stiff when they get up. Our pets bring us such amazing joy and companionship that it upsets us to see them age. We want to be able to walk, play ball or cuddle our friend forever, but life doesn’t give us that opportunity. Our pets are sometimes our most loyal and non-judging friend in our lives. We at Lake Pepin Pet Clinic want to help make sure they are a part of your life as long as they can comfortably be in your life.
Geriatric Pets And Hospice Care
Our older pets need a special kind of care just like your Grandma. The kind of care we give our older patients focuses on helping them lead an involved life. We want your pet to age “gracefully”. For our older pets we focus on making sure they are free of pain, eating well, and not anxious or stressed. Some older pets become upset when they can’t keep themselves as clean as they used to, or can’t jump up on their favorite couch. Just like older humans, nutrition and mental health become more important in our senior pets. We are a team that helps you provide the best care for your aging friend.
Hospice And End Of Life Decisions
When your old friend reaches that time when we see them failing, it can be very difficult to know what to do. Illness and death are a natural part of life. As a pet becomes more ill or struggles with a disease it can be hard to know how much to do for them to prolong their life. We often talk about “Quality of Life” at this point in a pet’s life. Sometimes we elect to enter a hospice phase and other times we choose to end a pet’s life with dignity and grace through euthanasia.
How does hospice care differ from “regular” medical care? Traditionally when we treat an illness or disease we are trying to cure the illness or disease. In hospice, the care is no longer aimed at curing a disease, but at providing support for the pet and family to provide their pet with comfort and quality of life until it dies a “natural death” or the family elects euthanasia. Hospice care involves much fewer if any diagnostic tests, such as lab work or x-rays, but instead focuses on providing comfort to the pet. This can involve: education about a disease, pain control, subcutaneous fluids, supplementary nutrition, bandage changes, management of incontinence, anything to ease comfort or anxiety for the pet.
When Is It Time To Say Goodbye?
For some families euthanasia is not an option due to religious or emotional beliefs. For these pets we will help you provide comfort for your pet as it passes from a “natural death”. Death occurs whether we step in and help the process or not. Death is the final stage of life and completes the circle of life.
Euthanasia is a gift our profession is able to use to help an aging pet pass without suffering. Euthanasia comes from the Greek word euthanatos which means “easy death”. As veterinarians we take an oath to prevent animal suffering. The act of euthanasia allows us to help a pet pass calmly and peacefully alleviating suffering in its final days.
Deciding when it may be time to say goodbye is rarely an easy decision. There typically is not one special moment in time to make the ultimate decision (unless the pet is truly suffering) to euthanize a pet. This time period could be hours, days, weeks or even months. Each pet has its own unique health problems and the obstacles in providing quality of life vary with the disease. The difficulties with breathing due to heart disease are drastically different than managing the pain of arthritis. In assessing if a pet is having reasonable quality of life we look at many different aspects of life such as level of pain.
Quality Of Life
There are several big things we look at to determine if a pet has a good quality of life, these are: Pain, Appetite, Incontinence, Mobility and Happiness.
- Pain: Animals in hospice deserve to have pain medications to keep them comfortable. These can be anti-inflammatory pain medication or narcotics. Signs of pain in animals can be subtle but include, decreased mobility, whining, excessive panting, pacing, hiding, not interacting with the family, growling, snapping or flinching when touched.
- Appetite: Food is necessary to support normal body function. While senior pets can have a smaller appetite than a young active pet, they still should be eating every day. Human hospice says “food and water are for the living”. Lack of appetite or thirst can indicate a need to control pain or nausea or an indicator that the body has begun to shut down.
- Incontinence: Many pets lose control of their bladder or bowels as a result of age changes or disease. These pets may feel anxiety at soiling their beds or houses, so we need to be sure to keep them clean. This can mean using diapers, daily baths, and pads in their bed etc. We also need to keep them clean so they do not develop sores as a result of being dirty.
- Mobility: Arthritis is very common in older pets. Pain can progress to where a pet has difficulty walking, standing up or being able to hold itself up properly to urinate or defecate. Some animals become anxious when they are not able to move around. We can help by providing pain relief and adapting the environment to help a pet move without fear of falling down.
- Happiness: It is important that your pet still be able to experience joy in its life. Every pet has something that brings it joy, it can be playing ball, snuggle time, walks outside, or going for a ride with you to the store. As your pet ages these things can be modified from throwing a tennis ball as far as you can, to a gentle game of toss on the living room carpet. As long as your pet has something that brings a spark to its eyes or a wag to its tail it is enjoying life.