The public perception of animals as connected to humans is making the death of animals more emotional than it has been in the past. This directly ties in with the difficult and complex decisions pet owners often have to make at the end of a pet’s life. I recently attended a session on end-of-life considerations at CVC in San Diego by Elizabeth Colleran, a feline practitioner and internal medicine specialist. She said planning ahead can make all the difference, so here are 5 tips to consider when preparing yourself for the inevitable day when your pet crosses the rainbow bridge.
When your pet has a life-limiting condition where pain cannot be managed or cured, most likely you will develop strong emotions that Dr. Colleran calls anticipatory grief. This powerful grief is the psyche’s way of preparing for impending loss and is completely normal, but it can blur judgement. It is important to plan and prepare for end-of-life considerations before this grief takes over, as your judgement can be impaired.
Discuss euthanasia procedures with your veterinarian ahead of time, and plan what to do with remains. Make sure you understand how it occurs, and ask for heavy sedation and pain control for your pet before euthanasia solution is administered. Your pet deserves a peaceful, pain-free exit, and you are your pet’s proxy and advocate.
Accurately Assess Quality of Life
In order to make the best decisions about your pet’s life, you need to accurately be able to assess quality of life. A pet’s quality of life can be measured by ability to engage in normal behaviors, eat and drink normal, maintain normal bowel and urinary habits, and express enjoyment or interaction with the pet’s people. Your veterinarian can give you a quality of life assessment scale that can help you quantify the unquantifiable. If you are getting near the end, ask your veterinarian for assistance in measuring quality of life, as that will help you base your decisions on real-life measurements.
Keep Files in Order
Ask your veterinarian for up-to-date veterinary records, and keep a copy at home. If your pet needs treatment or euthanasia while your regular veterinary office is closed, it will be important to have these records to share with an emergency/after-hours clinic.
Decide Whether to Have Children Present
Decide before-hand whether you want to have children affiliated with the pet present. Euthanasia can be a traumatic event for young children, so consider having them say goodbye before the veterinarian administers the euthanasia solution. Remember that children under the age of 10 think concretely, so using language like ‘putting a pet down’ or ‘putting a pet to sleep’ will not communicate that death has occurred. Use concrete language.
People don’t often understand the depth of connection between a pet and his/her owner. When a pet passes, it is important to honor the relationship, the care you gave, and the love you shared. Consider how you will memorialize your pet - be it with candles and music, planting a tree, spreading ashes, telling stores, etc. This is an important final step in the journey, and will help everyone involved grieve and celebrate the special life that has passed.