"Compassionate Care for Quality of Life"
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End of Life Care

This page is divided into three sections:  Quality of Life, Euthanasia, and Grief

Quality of Life

Our pets live in the moment.  They are not thinking about whether or not they will live to see their grandchildren graduate -- they are in the present, with whatever gifts that brings.  Things to smell, eat, chase.  Time to be stroked and loved.  As they age or get sick, pain and suffering may become a bigger part of their lives.  As their guardians, we are responsible for assessing our pet's quality of life.  Sometimes it's not so easy to do.

We love our pets, and so our emotions can get in the way of a rational assessment.  There are some guidelines that can help us.

First of all, get the facts.  Has your pet been recently examined by a veterinarian?  Do you have all the information you need about your pet's medical condition, options for treatment and chances for recovery?  New medical information is constantly becoming available, so don't assume that your pet has an untreatable condition without getting an up-to-date assessment.  A veterinary examination will also give you a chance to consult a professional about your pet's quality of life.

If your pet has a chronic condition, you may go through a roller-coaster of uncertainty about what is best for him or her.  Consider whether your pet is eating without vomiting, whether they can still do the things they enjoy, whether they are responsive to social contact and whether they are in discomfort.  No joy in life means no quality of life.

Dr. Alice Villalobos has developed a quality of life scoring system.  You can download it to print, and score your pet.  This is useful to do early on so that you have something to compare to later.

Remember that it is natural to live in denial when we are faced with painful circumstances.  If you are not sure that you are thinking rationally, seek the advice of trusted friends and family members as well as your veterinarian.

Euthanasia

The decision to euthanize can be very difficult, and many people agonize over whether they are doing the right thing at the right time.  As with most difficult things in life, there is often no perfect answer and we must recognize that we may have regrets no matter what we do.  If you are struggling with making the right decision for your pet, take some time to read the articles linked in the sidebar.

What is the euthanasia procedure like? 

It is important to understand that euthanasia is the last kind act we can perform for our pets.  Our aim is a peaceful death for our suffering friend.  What does that look like?  Is there time to plan a final loving day together?  Is there a place that would be least stressful?  A special blanket?  Who should be there?

At Nakusp Veterinary Clinic, we will adapt to your pet's needs in order to make this as easy as possible for him or her.  We wish we could make it easy for the owners too, but it seems like owners must go through the pain of grieving no matter what.

Sometimes we go to the pet's home, and there may even be a special calm place in that home.  Some pets are euthanized in a vehicle, some outside.  Some come into the veterinary clinic.

Often we sedate the pet.  This is usually a subcutaneous injection, similar to a vaccine injection.  It is usually not stressful for the pet.  If a pet has specific challenges (aggressive, painful to be touched), we appreciate being told in advance so we can work around them.  Once the pet is sedated, we usually place a catheter in a vein and then give an overdose of anesthetic.   The patient slips into unconsciousness, and then the heart and brain stop.  This part is very quick.  (With some cats we will use an alternate technique to avoid the stress of placing a catheter -- our goal is to make things easy for the cat)

Rarely there will be some gasps or leg movements after death.  Often the pet will release his or her bladder. 

What can I do with the remains?

You have three options:  home burial, private cremation, and communal cremation.

"Home burial" is exactly what it says.  You or a friend will take the remains and bury them in a spot of your choosing.  Keep in mind that you must bury deeply enough to prevent any domestic or wild animal from digging the body up.  The remains of euthanized animals are toxic.

Cremation is done at specialized pet crematoriums.  We use Okanagan Pet Cremation in Oyama.  You may choose either private cremation, in which case you will get the ashes back, or communal cremation, in which case the ashes are spread on the farm in Oyama.  You also have the option of making cremation arrangements yourself. 

If you plan to get your pet's ashes back, think about what you want to do with them.  Are you going to bury or scatter them, perhaps with a small family ceremony?  Are you going to buy an urn or have one made?  The ashes can be returned to you in a small pine urn, or in a white cardboard scatter box.

How much does it cost?

The cost depends on whether you have the procedure done at home or in the clinic, what size of pet, and what options you choose for care of the remains.  Call us to talk about all of these issues so that you know what to expect.

  

Grief

A POEM FOR THE GRIEVING...

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die...

 

-Anonymous

It's sad all right.  Nothing can take away the pain.  Everything reminds us of our missing friend.  Every time we drop a piece of toast on the floor or open the fridge or come home from work.  We keep expecting to hear those feet come running or to hear that bark or meow.  We walk around the place their bed used to be or we wake up in the morning missing the furry friend that used to warm our feet.

How to get over it?  Well, remember that it will take time.  Give yourself some space and don't be surprised when it hurts.  Talk to friends or family who have gone through the same thing;  you might be surprised at how common it is to feel intense grief.  You have lost a family member, someone who was there every day for you.  It's a huge loss.

There are some beautiful and thoughtful resources on the web that might help you understand what you are going through or connect with others.  Check out the ones we have listed on the sidebar.

If your grief seems overwhelming, consider seeing a counselor.