End of Life Care

Is it time?
This page is a place where pet parents can ask “Ask the Vet” questions. But this month the vet has a question of his own. When do you know it is time? When do you know it is the end? Even though I know the answers, it was a painful question with my own dog.

With the recent passing of our beloved dog Carly, and the gut wrenching, heartbreaking, profound sadness that I am experiencing, I thought this might be a good time to pass along some thoughts to help with end of life decisions, or maybe, just maybe this is good therapy for me. In any case, the end is painful for anyone who loves their pets but thinking it through before the end may make it easier.

As our precious Carly became older and less active, I knew I couldn’t keep her forever. I kept asking myself, as many clients have asked me, when do you know it is “time”?

While there is not an exact indicator of “its time,” there are signs you can look for to help you decide when it might be best to put your pet to sleep, or as my son Chip (4th-year Veterinary student) says “put them to peace.” Loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, accidents inside the house, heavy breathing, frequently hiding are all significant indicators, along with lack of mobility. We also need to be very aware of pain. Often older pets are on pain medications, and they will stop working as well.

I weighed all of these and asked myself “is Carly having more bad days than good days”? Another way of looking at this is, has my pet had its last good day? Watching for these signs and answering these questions will help you decide if it is time. As the Lap of Love hospice veterinarians say, “It is better to decide a week too early, than a day too late.”

While we are deciding what to do, every pet deserves the opportunity to receive the best medical care and pain relief available. Pets can hide their pain and deserve extra attention to their well-being as they approach the end of life. When these options are no longer considered, and when putting them to peace has been decided upon, then our pets deserve a dignified end of life process, from saying goodbye, to the actual procedure, and to the burial or cremation.

I hope these suggestions help you. Carly gave me one final ok, as she gave me “the look.” As I was heading out to work, she came to the door and gave a look that hit my soul. I had not seen “that look” from her before. I stopped in my tracks and came back into the house and laid on the floor with her for another 20 or 30 minutes. I was late for work, but it didn’t matter. Unbeknownst to me later that day she did the same thing to my wife, stopping her in her tracks with “the look.” She also found herself on the floor snuggling with Carly, feeling like something had changed.

The “look” is a unique moment that happens when you have the gift of a 6th sense for animals, and you have a special bond with that special pet. I call this “the look” because it is indescribable but genuine and unforgettable. Some will tell you there is no such thing as “the look” but for me, there is and it was real. When I received this from Carly, peace came over me about what was going to happen, but it is a peace that is painful. My friend, Dr. Andy Roark DVM, says that this “Sea of Sadness is the price of admission to a great relationship with a pet.”

If you think your pet is near the end of their journey, talk to your veterinarian early. It will help you, and your pet when it is “time.” We also have a list of symptoms and questions developed by The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine to ask yourself if you are still unsure.

Dear Carly, thank you for showing me it was “time.” I miss you deeply.