And, when you feel your answers are complete, please share your decisions and plans with your veterinary team.
- What medical information do you still need from your vet in order to make decisions for your pet? What aspects of your pet’s condition require further clarification?
- What do you need to understand about the treatment options you are considering for your pet? Are there side effects from the recommended medications/treatments that could be difficult to deal with? Is the recovery time and rehab process after surgery realistic for your lifestyle and financial situation?
- What is a realistic budget that you can afford in order to care for your pet? Also, what emotional costs, as well as time investment, are you and your family able/willing to devote to your pet’s care? Keep in mind that while it can be difficult to admit that your ability to care for your pet is limited by finances, they are a big part of the reality of medical treatment. Please be reasonable and honest with yourself and your vet about what emotional, financial, and time needs are realistic for your family and your pet. And remember, your financial situation is not a measure of how much you love your pet.
- How will you include and involve your children in your pet’s end-of-life care, as well as in the decision-making process about death or euthanasia? What resources might help you if you need to learn more?
- What do you think your pet wants? What signs will serve as a signal to you that your pet is no longer enjoying life? For instance, if your pet no longer enjoys daily routines, treats, activities, and meals, might it be kinder to consider euthanasia? If treatment is unlikely to help your pet regain some measure of well-being and improve his or her quality of life, is it kinder to consider hospice care or euthanasia? Asking yourself a few other key questions like “Is my pet in pain?” or “Is my pet suffering?” may help you assess your pet’s quality of life. While pain can be medicated, suffering is harder to define and treat. Considering your pet’s overall quality of life, as well as how your pet’s condition is affecting your family’s routines and quality of life, may help you make your decisions. To aid in this process, there is an article below relating to how to determine your pet’s quality of life.
- Is hospice care something you are willing and able to pay for and commit to for your pet?
- What do you want to say or do for your pet before he or she dies? For instance, do you want to take a last hike, say “thank you” for the many years of friendship, or seek out the resources that will help you deal with your pet’s loss. Taking meaningful action, like making a clay print of your pet’s paw, can help you feel more prepared emotionally to face your pet’s death.
- What do you need to know about how/where/when your veterinary team will perform euthanasia? For instance, does your veterinary team offer in-home euthanasia or is there a referral practice in your community that provides this service? Ask your veterinarian to explain both the medical and emotionally supportive aspects of the euthanasia procedure. Then, after careful consideration of your own needs, let your veterinarian know how/where/when you prefer to say good-bye to your pet so you are in agreement about your priorities and wishes.
- What body care options are available to you via your veterinary clinic? While cremation is the most common choice offered by veterinarians, other options may be more suited to your needs. What research can you do now in order to seek out other services that are available within your community?
Making caregiving and end-of-life decisions for your pet can be the most stressful part of being a pet parent. But, it can also be the most loving. Please be gentle with yourself and remember that every decision you make for your pet comes from a place of deep love and respect.
QUALITY OF LIFE
One of the most difficult aspects of deciding what is best for our pets is that they are unable to communicate with us how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. The scale below can help you determine from cues your pet gives you what their quality of life is. Rank each section on a scale of one to ten, and then add your total. If your pet’s score is below 35 points, it is time to consider what would be better for them.
Adequate pain control, including the ability to breathe properly, is an absolute necessity. Most pet owners do not know that being able to breathe is ranked as an important pain management strategy. A dog may benefit from receiving oxygen at home, and it may not be as challenging to provide as you think! Other methods of controlling pain may include oral or injectable medication.
If a dog cannot eat properly or willingly, first try hand feeding. If this is not successful, then it may be appropriate to consider a feeding tube, particularly if oral medication must be given. Blended or liquid diets may offer another alternative.
Fluid under the skin is an easy and well-tolerated way to supplement what an ailing dog is drinking. This is not a “heroic” measure and can really help an older dog feel better.
Can the dog be brushed, combed, and kept clean? Is the coat matted? Can the dog move away from stool or urine if it has an accident? Is there a tumor that has outgrown its blood supply and now has an odor or discharge? Often, a dilute solution of lemon juice in water on a sponge or washcloth can be used to clear dead cells away without causing pain. The veterinary healthcare team can help work out the details of this kind of care. It is also important to turn bedridden pets regularly, keep them clean and dry, and ensure that they have adequate padding underneath to prevent bedsores.
Is the dog experiencing joy or mental stimulation? Dogs communicate with their eyes as well as by wagging their tails. Is the ailing dog still interacting with family members and with the environment? Placing comfortable beds near family activities helps a dog remain engaged in life. Dogs are social animals and can become depressed when they are separated from their “pack.”
If the dog can no longer move around on its own, it may be time to consider one of the many mobility devices that are available. A sling or harness for support may be all that is required. Other options, depending on how much support is needed, include two-wheel carts, four-wheel carts, and wagons. Mobility devices allow a dog to stay active. This is particularly important for bigger dogs that cannot simply be carried from place to place. Mobility and hygiene go together when a dog is bedridden. The veterinarian is an important resource when working through mobility issues.
More good days than bad: 1–10
When there are too many bad days in a row, or if the dog seems to be “turned off” to life, quality of life is compromised. Bad days may mean nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, frustration, unrelenting pain/discomfort, or inability to breathe.