Animal Health Foundation Blog

Archive for the ‘Pet Loss and Bereavement’ Category

When Is the Right Time for Euthanasia?

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Beau

My sister and her husband have a really old Schnauzer-mix named Beau. He might even be a real Schnauzer. He’s so old, it’s hard to tell! They took in Beau when a friend in distress couldn’t keep him. The friend had gotten Beau as a puppy when her son was 10 years old, and that son is in his late twenties now, so… Beau is old. He has limited vision, limited hearing, has had several strokes and can’t walk a straight line, and is growing increasingly incontinent. On his bad days, it seems almost cruel that he is being kept alive. He may stagger or not be able to get up, he acts like he doesn’t know where he is and is anxious, and he may just suddenly completely empty his bladder on the carpet while standing still, seemingly unaware he is doing so.

But on his good days, he runs up the hall with the rest of his housemates, eats with gusto, goes outside through the dog door and potties without assistance or a reminder to do so, and enjoys his time on the sofa and in bed with his human and canine housemates. So they are very much afraid that if they call the vet to make a euthanasia appointment on one of his bad days, and he’s having a good day on the day of the appointment, the vet may decline to euthanize, or the staff may make them feel like creeps! In fact, they feel sort of pre-emptively guilty about even just talking about “Beau’s time.” My sister and brother-in-law love Beau and want him to have a good end. But when is the right time?

Chaco and Lena

There is Chaco, one of my former foster dogs. She’s younger than Otto, but has two failing knees and severe arthritis, and her owner lacks the health insurance or budget to pay for two knee surgeries. Her declining mobility has contributed, it seems, to weight gain, which compounds her problems.

Another friend is in a similar position with Lena, Otto’s very first playmate and friend. She has had one ACL surgically repaired, and underwent “conservative management” when the second one tore; her veterinarian says her hips, too, are quite dysplastic, and would have benefitted from surgery. Both hips and both knees, too? Her very devoted owner, my friend, could not have possibly paid for four surgeries – nor could she have gotten or afforded insurance after the first knee injury and x-rays showed the hip problems. Lena is maintained on daily pain medication and various joint supplements, and my friend takes her for frequent drives to places where she can take short, gentle walks. My friend has also been shopping for some sort of wagon or cart she could use to take the 70-pound dog on walks, so she at least can enjoy the changing scenery and odors. Lena, like Chaco, is getting fairly crippled, but is in otherwise good health and appetite. How long can my friends maintain them in this condition?

How to know when to let them go

Super dedicated owners can provide hospice care for dogs, if they are physically and emotionally able and have an appropriate home and time to do so. We ran a great article about this in 2010; it holds up well today. But not everyone has a schedule and home that would permit, as just one example, helping a large non-ambulatory dog outside to potty several times a day.

Not unrelated: Between all my dog-loving friends, I am aware of exactly ONE DOG who died peacefully in his sleep.

I just went looking; here are some links for information on how to know when “the time” is right for euthanasia:

https://www/americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/euthanasia-making-the-decision/

https://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2009/march/ten-ways-you-know-its-time-euthanize-your-pet-6745

https://www.lapoflove.com/Quality-of-Life/How-Will-I-Know-It-Is-Time

When it is getting close to time to make an appointment for euthanasia, we have some other helpful articles to read. This one is by a long-time contributor to WDJ, trainer Lisa Rodier.

Also, trainer Jill Breitner’s article on what to ask before making an appointment for euthanasia and the companion piece to that article by Dr. Sally J. Foote are excellent sources of information about what you should know in advance.

When You Miss Your Furry Friend

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

How To Camp With Your Dog

Monday, April 15th, 2019

How To Camp With Your Dog

 

 

Yes, You Did

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

Saying Goodbye; How to Deal with the Death of a Dog

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

Dealing with the death of a pet can be the hardest thing many of us will ever do.

The link below helps you with how you can say goodbye.

 

Saying Goodbye: How To Deal With The Loss Of A Dog

Hospice Care For Dogs

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

From iheartdogs.org

Animal Health Foundation Board Member, Dr. Alice Villalobos, is quoted in this article!

Hospice Care For Dogs: Is It The Right Choice For You & Your Pooch?

Hospice care for dogs is a relatively new concept. Sadly, the word hospice often carries a negative stigma. It reminds us of lonely, sterile rooms and the fear of impending death. In reality, hospice care can be a wonderful gift for terminally ill people and pets. Rather than focusing on invasive medical procedures, hospice provides physical and emotional comfort to end-of-life patients and their families.

hospice care for dogs

What is hospice care for dogs?

Hospice care is based on the philosophy that people and pets deserve to die with dignity. When a dog is suffering from a serious illness and a cure is not possible, hospice care provides a temporary alternative to euthanasia. The goal is to make their remaining days comfortable with pain medications, dietary strategies and human interaction.

Dr. Alice Villalobos is a world-renowned veterinary oncologist. She coined the term “pawspice,” which she describes as supportive care in evaluating and managing quality of life in the time leading up to a pet’s death.

“In-home ‘pawspice’ care is a wonderful next step,” Dr. Villalobos says. “It should be introduced as an interval between the thought and the final act of euthanasia, if the owner really feels that their pet still has a quality of life.”

Hospice care for dogs also allows families to come to terms with the impending loss of a beloved friend. In keeping a terminal pet comfortable, the human family members have time to come to terms with the situation. Hospice allows them to plan special moments with their dog, take family photos, and seek emotional and spiritual support.

8 Things Every Dog Owner Should Know When Their Pet Crosses The Rainbow Bridge

Sunday, January 21st, 2018
For WWW.LITTLETHINGS.COM by REBECCA ENDICOTT
artwork by Laura Caseley for Little Things

Unfortunately, it’s the nature of pet ownership to lose your beloved fluff ball. The average human will live eight decades, but a dog’s lifespan is much shorter.

According to the American Kennel Club, dogs live for an average of 10 to 13 years, depending on the breed.

That means that every human who welcomes a sweet pup into the family will have to eventually face the tricky proposition of losing a furry best friend.

There are lots of beautiful ways to memorialize your dog after he crosses the rainbow bridge, but that isn’t necessarily comforting in the days immediately before and after a pooch passes on.

In fact, it can be really hard to prepare for that moment.

That’s why we put together a list of important things all pooch-owners should know for the day their beloved dog dies.

#1: The Grief Will Hit Hard

#1: The Grief Will Hit Hard

You might be surprised by how hard you are hit by grief.

It’s easy to think that you will be able to cope with the death of your pet, but people often discover that they are just as devastated by the loss of their dog as they would be by any death.

Even though humans know intellectually that they’ll have to say goodbye to their beloved dogs eventually, it doesn’t make it any easier to face the reality.

#2: You Might Feel Guilty

#2: You Might Feel Guilty

Guilt is a totally normal emotion to experience as you’re processing your loss and grief, but people are sometimes taken aback by how strongly they blame themselves.

People worry that perhaps there was something more they could have done early, they worry that they made the wrong decision, or that they missed a sign that their pup was in pain or unwell.

These worries are totally normal, but try not to let them take you over. At some point, you have to trust that you did everything you could for your sweet pup, and he loved you for it.

#3: Your Vet Will Be More Of A Comfort Than You Expect

#3: Your Vet Will Be More Of A Comfort Than You Expect

During your dog’s lifetime, the veterinarian is just the person who gives your pup shots and diagnoses infections.

After you pup dies, the veterinarian might become your best friend for a while.

That’s because vets see this kind of loss every day, and they often know exactly how to support and comfort a grieving pet parent.

Vets can also help you with details like figuring out how to lay your dog to rest; many vets offer cremation services and memorial boxes.

#4: Grief Can Spike Unexpectedly

#4: Grief Can Spike Unexpectedly

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

After you lose your dog, you’ll probably spend a few days mourning before slowly starting to feel better.

When that happens, it’s easy to think that the worst of your grief is behind you, though that often isn’t the case.

Sometimes, grief will reemerge as fresh and painful as the day your dog died. Know that the grieving process is long and complex, and let it take its natural course.

#5: You Might Have To Make The Choice

#5: You Might Have To Make The Choice

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

For many dog owners, the most difficult part of losing their pet actually comes before the pet passes on.

Many owners find themselves in the painful position of choosing to end the dog’s life, and having him put to sleep.

When you adopt a dog, you have to be prepared for the possibility of making this choice.

If your dog is elderly, in pain, and unable to comprehend what’s happening, it might be your responsibility to help him avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

#6: It’s Worth Asking For Paw Prints

#6: It's Worth Asking For Paw Prints

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

After your dog passes away, your vet will usually offer to help with the remains, often by cremation.

Before that happens, you might want to ask the vet to take your dog’s paw prints for you.

Many vets are happy to help you through your goodbye by giving you one last memento of your beloved pup.

Even as you move on, having his paw prints is a lovely way to remember a loyal and beloved friend.

#7: If Possible, Be There

#7: If Possible, Be There

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

We don’t always have a choice in how our dogs pass on.

If it’s an accident or completely unexpected, you might not be with your dog at the end.

However, if you can choose to be with your dog, definitely do it, though it might be painful for you.

What’s important is that your dog will feel loved and unafraid with you by his side holding his paw.

#8: Remember, You Gave Your Pup The Best Life

#8: Remember, You Gave Your Pup The Best Life

Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Eventually, as the weeks and months pass, you’ll find yourself healing. You’ll never stop loving and missing your dog, but you’ll know that your pup is in a better place now.

Most important of all, you will know that, while he was here with you, you gave him the best life ever.

He loved you to pieces, and we bet he wouldn’t have traded one second of the life the two of you had together.

 

 

Pet Loss Books for Children – by Corey Gut, DVM

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

The death of pet can hurt as much as the loss of a relative

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

The Washington Post published an article in 2012 which will resonate with any person who has lost a special pet.

Copy and Paste this link in your browser OR read below:  https://wpo.st/Itp-2

It’s been four months, and yet if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will crack. By “that day,” I mean the day I came home from work to find my Doberman, Red, splayed out on my bedroom floor, his head to one side, his body lifeless but still warm. It’s an image I can’t seem to shake, as much as I try.

I’m no stranger to death. I was a mess of anger and confusion when my father, suffering the aftermath of a stroke, took his last gasps one day in 1995, his children gathered around his hospital bed. And three years later, the death of my sweet, beloved sister Bonny after a withering battle with brain cancer was nothing short of heartbreaking. Yet somehow, and much to my distress, the death of my dog seems even harder. I haven’t felt grief quite like this since, well, the death of my previous dog five years ago.

How could the death of a canine possibly hurt as much as that of a family member? As the sadness lingers, part of my grieving process has been to try to understand the differences.

Researchers have long known that the animal-human bond is strong: A 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling asked a group of dog owners to place symbols for their family members and pets in a circle representing each dog owner’s life. (The distance between the subject and the other symbols corresponds to the relative, real-life closeness of those relationships.) The subjects tended to put the dog closer than the average family member, and about as close as the closest family member; in 38 percent of the cases, the dog was closest of all.

Research comparing grief over the death of pets to that over the death of friends and family members has come up with different answers. A 2002 article in the journal Society & Animals that reviewed multiple studies found that the death of a companion animal can be “just as devastating as the loss of a human significant other,” not quite as severe, “far more intense” or, well, just about the same.

Sandra Barker, the director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the 1988 diagram study, counsels grieving pet owners and teaches veterinary students the importance of understanding the process. Studies aside, her own experience has taught her that the intensity and longevity of the grief vary widely. Like me, her clients sometimes begin the process with a sense of surprise and even shame that they’re grieving more for their pet than for a sibling or parent.
“But when they realize that the difference is the pet gave them constant companionship, and there was total dependency, then they start to realize that’s why they’re grieving so intensely,” she said.

Rearranging my life
It’s true that I spent so much time taking care of Red, and Gromit before him, that when each one died it didn’t merely leave a hole in my single-person household; it was as if someone had rearranged my life, excising without my permission many of the rituals that had governed it.

Over the course of 13 years, for instance, the same thing would happen with Gromit every morning. I would sit on my bed to put on my shoes, and he would drape himself across my lap. I would scratch his butt and he would reward me with a big sloppy kiss. Recently, I did the math: Accounting for the times I was traveling without him, this interaction happened more than 4,000 times.

So it makes sense that when he died, it was months before I could touch my shoelaces without expecting to also touch him. And I had no idea what to do with my mornings without my pooch to require that small gesture of me.

About nine months after Gromit died, once I knew I didn’t want to replace him but just wanted to consider getting another dog, I signed up as an occasional foster parent at a no-kill shelter in Dupont Circle. My first assignment, Red, was a living, breathing refutation of the portrayal of Dobermans as vicious guard dogs in such movies as “Hugo” and the animated classic “Up.” The first time he ambled over to me when I was sitting on the couch in my apartment and lay his head across my lap so I could stroke his snout, I knew I’d adopt him.

And for the two months I lived in that apartment after he died, the couch never seemed so empty, nor the place so quiet.

Keeping it simple
My relationships with Red, Gromit and Consuela (the cat who has survived them both) have been, for lack of a better word, simple. Or at least simpler than that with my sister — but especially simpler than that with my father, with whom I had constant conflicts over religion and sexuality, and whose love and support seemed to always have strings attached.
Barker echoes the idea that the unconditional, nonjudgmental love offered up by animals — “they’re just happy you’re there” — can make it especially hard to lose them. Were these losses more difficult because I was living alone? Some studies suggest that just as pets can ease loneliness, especially among single people, it can be harder for us when they’re gone.

And then there is the suddenness factor. Former president Bill Clinton told Newsweek in 2002 that the death of his dog, Buddy, who was hit by a car, was “by far the worst thing” that Clinton had experienced after leaving the White House. Barker says that not having time to prepare for the pet’s death “usually makes it more intense” and that something like an accident can add a layer of traumatic stress, especially if the owner witnesses it.

She might as well have been talking about me. Gromit’s battle with cancer at age 13 was short, but at least I spent the last few weeks of his life preparing for it. I held him when the vet put him down, and it was horrible, but I knew he was as comfortable as possible — and that having me there was part of his comfort.

At age 7, Red had been otherwise healthy when he started wheezing one day last October. The vet thought he had allergies and advised me to return if he didn’t get better within a couple of weeks. Two weeks later, a chest X-ray showed a mild pneumonia, and the vet sent Red and me home with antibiotics that she hoped Red would respond to within a few days. I gave him a dose at about 1 p.m. and went to work; when I returned that evening, he was dead.

‘I’m sorry’
It’s too painful to describe the extent of my immediate reaction, or really the reactions that unfolded over the following days, weeks and even months. But I will say that when Gromit was dying, I kept repeating the words, “Thank you.” In Red’s case, too late for him to hear, I kept repeating, “I’m sorry.”

The fact that our pets are so dependent on us makes it all too easy to second-guess our decisions and descend into a pit of guilt. Shouldn’t I have known? Did I do everything I could? If I had just . . . what? Taken him to the vet sooner? Insisted he be hospitalized? What if I had been home? I might not have been able to save him, but at least in his last moments he would have known I was with him, and maybe that would have made it a little easier for him if not for me.

In “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion refers to grief as passive and mourning as active. Sure enough, when I talked to Kathy Reiter, who leads monthly pet-loss support groups in Alexandria and Fairfax County, she eventually (in true therapist style) turned the conversation to my experience, asking what I’d done — actively — to help myself with this process. It occurred to me that I needed to sit around and cry a little less and to grieve, publicly, a little more.

That’s easier said than done. A few weeks after Red died, some friends from the dog park suggested we have a get-together in his memory. I was grateful for the suggestion, but as I came in and exchanged hugs, I felt a bit sheepish when I pulled out the box of Red’s ashes and a recent photo and set them up on the table. Maybe it was my imagination, but I got the feeling that even friends who had gathered for just this purpose would rather say just a quick “I’m sorry; how are you doing?” than truly acknowledge the elephant — or the Doberman — in the room. It wasn’t until a couple of hours and several drinks later that we finally told a few stories about him.
More than just a dog
Thankfully, many of my closest friends, family members and co-workers have been wonderfully sympathetic, and for that I’m grateful. Others have seemed reluctant to talk about my grief, and I suspect that it’s because they’re trying to stay in denial about the prospect of losing their own animal or trying not to remember the death of a previous one. My least-favorite reaction comes from those who are aiming to be supportive but regularly ask me when I’m going to adopt another dog, a reaction that seems tantamount to saying, “Get over it already. He was just a dog. Isn’t one as good as another?”

That can lead to what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised grief.

“Simply stated, many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgment as the death of a person,” researchers wrote in a 2003 article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Unfortunately, this tends to inhibit people from grieving fully when a pet dies.”

Two months after Red died, I’ve had a change of scenery, moving to my sister Rebekah’s home in southern Maine to work on book projects for a year. Here, my sister and brother-in-law’s gregarious chocolate Lab, Maya, helps keep me company and reminds me that eventually, probably sometime next year, I’ll be ready to adopt again. Meanwhile, Red’s ashes sit in a beautiful carved wooden box on a shelf in my bedroom, right in front of a beautiful drawing that a colleague’s son made for me after Red died. Those artifacts have helped, but I’ve needed something more.

My sources for this article noticed the answer before I did: I’m a writer, and I need to process my grief by writing, so that’s what I’m doing. Reiter admitted that her own work helping others who have lost animals was partly as a tribute to her cat, Prince, who died at the ripe old age of 23, but also as a way to validate and work through her own grief. By writing about Red, she said, “you are doing what I did: It’s self-serving, but it’s a tribute, and it’s a catharsis for you. You want to capture the memories, so you don’t forget.”
There’s one more task ahead of me. Five years ago I buried Gromit’s ashes in the woods outside Rebekah’s house, along with his collar, a note, a photo of us together and one of his favorite things: a bagel. The headstone says, “Thank you.” Red’s box, meanwhile, went up on the shelf when I got here in January, partly because the ground was frozen solid.

The days are getting longer, though. The ground has thawed. I’ve been looking at headstones and, more important, composing the words that will go on Red’s.

Yonan, the Post’s Food and Travel editor, is on book leave. Follow him on Twitter @joeyonan.

 

Survey helps owners make objective decisions about cancer care

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The Pet Quality of Life Survey is designed to help owners by providing objective criteria they can use to decide if treating cancer is the right choice. Veterinarian Maria Iliopoulou developed the survey for dog owners but has plans to revise it so cat owners can use it too. Business Insider (9/19)

More than 73 million U.S. households own a pet and altogether they spend $53 billion per year to care for them.

 

More than half of that budget goes toward medical treatment, with money spent on supplies and OTC medications rising by more than 7% in 2012.

But where do you draw the line between keeping Fido healthy and compromising your finances to give him a few more months of playtime?

“It’s a very difficult situation [for both patients and veterinarians],” said Dr. Kristen Frank, an internist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  “I’ve had pet owners who don’t necessarily have $15,000 to spend to treat a terminal illness, but they’ve done it anyway through borrowing money or credit cards.”

Emergency treatments can range from $1,500 to $4,000 for dogs, according to Frank, with cancer treatment sometimes costing twice as much or more.

Sometimes, the decision to forego medical care has more to do with the emotional cost of watching a beloved pet go than the potential financial burden.

“Recently I saw a woman who specifically said that her other cat passed way from cancer and she did everything including chemo and she said she did not want to go through that again,” Frank said.

Unlike hospitals for humans, vets don’t typically have the same flexibility to work with pet owners who can’t afford treatments. Pet insurance can be handy, but it often comes with maximum coverage limits, steep deductibles, and pre-existing conditions clauses.

“Payment plans are also hard to come by,” Frank said. “The financial aspect of veterinary care is toughest thing our people have to deal with on a daily basis …We all wish we could provide free care but unfortunately it’s just not possible.”

But how does a pet owner decide whether to pay for treatment or let their pet go?

There is no one-size-fit-all answer, but a Michigan State University research may have found a simple way to help pet owners through such difficult times.

“Pets are like surrogate children,” said Maria Iliopoulou. “In some cases, when a human bond evolves, it makes the decision more difficult.”

Iliopoulou, who owns a small menagerie of pets herself, set out in 2009 to create a “Quality of Life Survey for Canine Cancer Patients” that dog owners can use to look at medical treatment with an unbiased eye.

Before each visit, Iliopoulou suggests dog owners complete the survey, which asks basic questions to help them track major quality of life indicators for canines — play behavior, signs of illness, and overall happiness.

“What we were trying to do with the research was to isolate the emotions to help people make the best decisions for their pet and for themselves,” she said. “It helps the owner to pay attention to specific observable changes and transfer this info to the veterinarian.”

So far, the survey is applicable only to dogs, but Iliopoulou plans on continuing her research in order to create similar tools for a range of animals, like cats, birds, etc.

CLICK HERE to view the survey.