Losing a treasured family pet is one of the great sadnesses of life. It is always heartbreaking to see your dog grow old. Just imagining losing your pet someday makes your eyes a little misty, but all you can do is prepare for it. The bond you have with your Greyhound is incredibly special. Thinking about the following points will help you when it comes time to make the decision for your best friend.
While some pets die of old age in the comfort of their own home, many others become seriously ill, get injured or experience a significantly diminished quality of life as they grow very old. In these situations, it may be necessary for you to consider having them euthanized in order to spare them from suffering. But how do you know when it’s time?
First talk to your veterinarian. They are well versed on the progression of diseases/old age and can advise you, knowing your dog’s history. It’s important to understand the disease process your pet is experiencing in order to properly evaluate the quality of life. In most cases, except acute accident or injury, you will have a window of time in which to decide what to do.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Think about when your hound is most happy – is it when he is running, playing, eating or snuggling with you? List five things that you know your dog enjoys, and when you can honestly say that he can no longer do three of those things, recognize that his quality of life is significantly diminished. Most pets are tremendously easy to please, so when it no longer becomes possible to raise a tail-wag, you should be considering what kind of quality of life your pup is experiencing.
Pain is one of the most important things to consider on behalf of your dog. Signs of pain can include not seeking interaction with the family, growling, snarling, snapping, immobility, flinching when touched, and not eating. Your vet will be able to help with adequate pain control. If it gets to the point where chronic pain cannot be controlled with medication or if he has trouble breathing, that means he is suffering, and we do not want that.
Because dogs live in the moment, when they are failing, that is all they know, and naturally that will make them anxious. As dogs begin to understand that they cannot get up and down on their own accord, their natural anxiety level rises as they start to feel like “prey” instead of being the predator. They can no longer protect their family as they once did. When anti-inflammatories and other medications cease to work, quality of life should be a concern. Signs of anxiety are pacing, panting, whining, and difficulty sleeping. Your vet can tell you if anti-anxiety medication can help your dog.
EATING AND DRINKING
Some Greyhounds will lose their appetite and stop eating and drinking altogether. Dogs can go several days without eating and drinking, but it may be a sign that their body is shutting down. If you get to the point where you have to hand feed them or they are not able to swallow, that can be a sign that you should not wait any longer. Sometimes, they have frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss. Be sure to check with your vet, though, because lack of appetite by itself can have many causes.
MOBILITY AND HYGIENE
Often times, towards the ends of their lives, pets tend to change their regular habits. More often than not, they simply cannot perform them easily as they once could. Trouble standing or walking is a clear and visible sign of discomfort. Or they may become incontinent. You may have to help them keep clean to prevent bedsores or other infections. If they are not able to go outside or for a walk, it is time to recognize that end of life may be near.
Sometimes we wish our pet would just pass peacefully so that we don’t have to make that hard decision. If the most important thing to you is waiting until the last possible minute to say goodbye to your baby, you will most likely be facing an emergency, stress-filled, sufferable condition for your pet. It may not be peaceful and you may regret waiting too long. If a peaceful, calm, loving, family-oriented, in-home end of life experience is what you wish for your pet, then you will probably need to make the decision a little sooner than you want. Making that decision should not be about ceasing any suffering that has already occurred, but about preventing suffering from occurring in the first place. Above all, our pets do not deserve to hurt.
Each family must decide what their emotional and financial tolerance is also. If it comes to a point where the accommodations you need to make for your dog are too much, it’s OK to acknowledge that. Making the decision to euthanize a pet can feel gut-wrenching, even murderous. Families feel like they are letting their pet down or that they are the cause of their friend’s death. They forget that euthanasia is a gift, something that, when used appropriately and timely, prevents further physical suffering for the pet and emotional suffering of the family.
HOW TO TELL THE KIDS
Sometimes parents find it hard to break it to their children that their dog is dying, especially if the young ones are greatly attached to their pet. Excluding or protecting children from this decision-making process because they are thought to be too young to understand may only complicate their grieving period following the pet’s death. Children should be given straightforward, truthful, and simple answers. If they are prepared adequately, children are usually able to accept a pet’s death.
AT HOME EUTHANASIA
A growing trend, at-home euthanization eliminates many of the typically negative experiences for both pet and family. Dogs can be in the comfort of their own home, in their own bed, with none of the disruptions of being carried onto a vet’s table, feeling fear in their last moments. Many pet owners prefer to have their animal pass in a familiar setting, at home, surrounded by members of the family. You can take the time to express your love and give him peace before starting the process. They will know in their final minutes, as it was during their whole lives, their people are with them all the way. Other family pets can be present too so that they can process and understand what happened. At-home euthanasias are a blessing for pets and the people who love them.
Ask your veterinarian if they provide this service well in advance of deciding whether to euthanize your pet. If they don't, they may be able to give you names of mobile vets or vets from other practices that do. You definitely need a licensed veterinarian to do the procedure.
BURIAL AND CREMATION OPTIONS
Your veterinarian can offer you a variety of options for your pet’s final resting place. Cremation is the most popular choice, and you can choose whether or not you would like to have your pet’s ashes returned to you. Most cremation services offer a choice of urns and personalized memorials.
Burial is another option. You may want to bury your pet in your own yard, but before doing so, be sure to check your local ordinances for any restrictions. There are also many pet cemeteries throughout the United States. To locate a pet cemetery near you, check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries.
A book that may be helpful to you in this journey is called FACING FAREWELL. Written by a veterinarian, it will help you will know what to expect and be confident that you have made the right choice for both you and your pet.
Making the decision to say goodbye is very personal and the timing of the final day is unique to each individual and family. Everyone has a hard time with this, but know that when you make this decision from a place of love, you will never have cause to feel guilty. But the vital thing here is to make your dog’s final moments as filled with love as possible. Spend as much time as you can with them. Ease their pain in all the ways you can. Most importantly, do not fail to thank your dog for the joy, laughter, friendship, loyalty and love they have showered upon you.
The emotions that you may encounter now are valid and at times very intense. Because of the unique emotional relationships we have with our pets, their deaths produce a level of pain that is difficult to describe. Navigating the waters of pet grief is a turbulent journey for pet owners. Next week we will look at some ways we can manage to get through that grief.