You may have come to the point that you have begun to think about euthanizing your family's beloved pet. They may be quietly struggling with pain, anxiety, unhappiness, immobility, or an inability to do the things they once liked to do. In the face of making this very painful, yet very loving decision, clients have asked me, "How do I tell my young children?". If you have a scheduled appointment to euthanize your pet, or know that your pet could die without assistance any day, it may be time for a conversation with your kids. For children of any age, I recommend telling them the truth; that their pet is very sick, and sometimes pets cannot get better and they die. Because children under the age of 8-10 may not understand the permanence of death, you can explain that death means their bodies stop working and we cannot see them anymore. I recommend avoiding euphemisms such as the pet will be "put to sleep" or will be "going away" as these are things your child faces in their own lives every day, and we don't want them to be scared when they are put to sleep at night, or say goodbye to a family member who is going away on a trip. I would also avoid telling them that their pet will be going to the veterinarian to die, as this may instill a fear or distrust of veterinarians or doctors in general. You can tell the children that their pet could die any day and that it is time, for everyone who wants to, to spend some time with the pet telling him/her how much fun they had together, how much they love him/her, how much they will miss them when they are gone. You can suggest the kids do something special for their pet; draw a picture or write a letter that they could share with their pet, or give them a "party" with lots of love and special treats, for example. Of course you know your child best, so the above are only ideas to help prepare your child for coming home to the news their animal companion has died, and to begin their journey of grieving the loss. The goal of preparing your child (and yourself) to deal with the anticipatory grief, and the grief after the actual loss, is to eventually be able look back with memories of happy times spent with a beloved animal companion, as opposed to only being able to focus on the sadness of the death itself.
Please do not hesitate to call or email for more information on Gentle Goodbye's services and grief support for adults and children.
Kristin Carpenter, LCSW
Gentle Goodbye Grief Counselor
Here is a great AVMA video on arthritis. We can help make your pet more comfortable.
UPDATE: In place of the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, the Department of Consumer Protection has rolled out local drug collection boxes. Current locations and more info can be found here or download a brochure
Local Disposal of Unused, Unwanted or Expired Medications
Without Endangering the Environment or Water Supplies
Ever wonder what to do with those left over pet medications? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) each year thousands of pets are accidentally poisoned when they eat human or pet prescription drugs, even ones prescribed for them.
So how do you get rid of them?
The relationship between people and animals, often called the human-animal bond, is powerful and diverse and has been documented throughout history, across cultures, and in recent scientific research.
Although people experience the human animal relationship most often with dogs, cats and other household pets, individuals also form bonds with wildlife, feral animals, even farm animals. We magnify the effects of the bond even further when we bring registered therapy animals into nursing homes or children's reading programs to benefit others. We train service animals to help people with disabilities, literally transforming their lives and providing increased independence.
I don't usually have to explain to my clients what the human-animal bond is - they are often experiencing the benefits as well as the painful emotional consequence of loving an animal as we face end of life concerns.
Recently I had the honor of being elected to the board of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAH-ABV), an organization with the mission to advance the role of the veterinary medical community in nurturing positive human-animal interactions in society.
That seems like it should be a "no brainer" to most of us as veterinarians, but as scientists and physicians we are taught to fix things. In fact the veterinary oath makes no mention of people beyond using our skills "for the benefit of society".
What we need to keep in mind, especially as companion animal veterinarians, is that the relationships pets have with their people has a huge impact on their health and welfare. Here are just a few examples:
In consulting with clients with patients in veterinary hospice, we weigh the benefits of any treatment with the potential risks, as well as the impact on the relationship. A medication that we can mix with gravy may be okay, but if getting a pill down requires a struggle, we need to look at other alternatives.
It's about the bond.
"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."
Acknowledging that your pet is getting older is difficult and often talking about it is even harder. That's why I always look for opportunities to meet people face to face before they are facing a more serious situation.
When pet owners ask me whether “it’s time”, I often say to them, “your friend is ready, but he (or she) will wait until you are. Let’s make sure we keep him comfortable until then.” This is veterinary hospice.
Veterinary Hospice might be a new term for you to think about, but it’s an idea that makes sense for our animal companions who’s lives are never long enough! It is end of life care for our animals, focused on the patient and family’s needs. It is purposefully helping our patient live life as fully as possible until the time of death with or without intervention (euthanasia); and it is allowing you and your family to prepare, to a degree, for the death of your pet.
Many people ask me if they should get a second dog as a companion to their older dog. After all, it doesn't take twice as much work to take care of two right? (Although remember, it does cost twice as much!)
If you add the right second dog to the family and are a bit lucky, it can work well for all involved.
My experience providing hospice services in my mobile practice has helped me think differently about the care a pet gets years before.
For example, while we are cautious about anesthesia in older dogs and cats and may be tempted to put off a teeth cleaning in a senior pet, the truth is - bad teeth only get worse!
When you think the word "Dog", what image comes to mind?
In my minds eye,
I see a verb,
an action word,
a creature in motion.
Running, digging, crouching, sniffing, wagging - dogs hold such joy in their hearts. Expressing that exuberance in activity and motion is a big part of who they are.
When I talk to clients about quality of life indicators in their older dogs, of course we talk about mobility, pain control, appetite, elimination habits and other biological functions. But quality of life also involves a dog's spirit - the behaviors and activities that create the special bond we have with our canine companions and the daily adventure that is a dog's life.
The best way I know to make connections with strangers is to tell them I'm a veterinarian. I get "ohs" and "ahs" and stories about pets - present and past. It makes me feel special.
But I know that in veterinary medicine the hidden angels are our staff members - especially the veterinary technicians - that work in every veterinary clinic largely behind the scenes. And this week is their week - Oct 14th to the 20th.
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.