Oh it’s so common. We see it in the movies all the time. Most recently in the Christopher Nolan picture: Inception. Dad, laid up in the hospital, holds on long enough to pass on a plot point to Junior, who arrives, just before the final breathe. Junior, dramatically, leans over to catch Pop’s whispered words, who then, exhales once, before expiring. It’s a sad, and yet, predictable moment.
We see the same in real life. Mom holds on just long enough to see another Christmas, New Years’ or the baby’s birthday. And, believe it or not, the dog does the same thing.
It takes a calm environment and energy to die comfortably. Many of us have never thought of this fact, and I didn’t either until I became trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
I get phone calls all the time to euthanize a beloved family pet. Oftentimes the pet parent will call and say that the speciality practice has diagnosed either an end-stage kidney disease or cancer and they are making plans for the inevitable.
I listen compassionately. Often they say, “I don’t know when will be the best time.” This uncertainty can be because they’re awaiting a family member to return home: a son from college or a spouse on a business trip.
The decision, can at times, appear to hinge not on the best interests of the pet (where it should be) but on the convenience of the parent. The dog who’s often given much more than he’s ever received is asked to hold on in spite of the pain, which often is unbearable because we aren’t savvy enough to analyze pain in our pets.
Not too long ago, when I graduated from veterinary school in 1985, we routinely didn’t give pain medications to surgical patients because we felt dogs didn’t feel pain as we do, and the practical reason was that if there was pain then the dog wouldn’t lick the incision site. We’ve come a long way since then, but we still haven’t grasped the concept that pet’s feel pain, just like us, but are at a loss to explain it.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I step on your toe, or you bump your shin. You will retract your foot or leg and exclaim in pain. Since it’s an acute or sharp pain, you quickly surmise, putting two and two together, that the pain is a result me stepping on your toe. You push, scream, and pull back with your foot. Asshole!
This is so elemental that even our dogs or cats can figure this out. If we inadvertently sit on them or catch their tail in the door, they scream! They understand cause and effect and know that you will immediately come to their aid to apply guilt-ridden attention and comfort.
Now, let’s change the scenario.
Say your pet ate something that wasn’t good for him and it upset his stomach. You’ve all seen it. He doesn’t fall back and bitch (well, not usually! Breed dependent.) he trots outside and eats some grass. Some scientists believe the fresh grass has a higher concentration of chlorophyll which helps in digestion.
For our convenience, we overwhelmingly feed dry food that takes a bunch of energy to digest. (Think a bowl of cereal, sans milk!) This large lump of food requires in increase in water intake. Water raises the pH of the gastric lumen making the ingesta difficult to break down. (The gastric juices need to stay around pH 2.0 in order to turn ‘food’ into proteins, carbohydrates, and ultimately waste.) Undigested food contributes to colic/indigestion. This prompts our best friend to dash outside seeking relief. But . . I digress . . .
What if if it’s not the food, and he’s too sick to run outside? What if he’s too sick to get up? He doesn’t scream for attention, because he can’t put two and two together, he’s been hurting for awhile, and screaming takes energy! He simply stops eating and drinking. And what do you say, usually after two days or so? . . . “Hey! Has anyone noticed Turdy hasn’t eaten his food?”
Fast forward to too many years of dry food, congenital or inherited weaknesses, and a failure to keep the teeth clean: our ‘best friend’ it would appear has run out of time.
Although we’d like the Hollywood moment when our pet looks our way, focuses on us and places a paw every so gently on our arm, before drifting off to sleep. Most of our pet’s are using what little energy they have left — making you feel better.
Think about it. You’ve just been given a diagnosis of the big C – cancer by your veterinarian and you’re driving home with your pet, crying. Your dog doesn’t understand why you’re crying, he just knows he’s sick to his stomach, for the upteenth time! What’s the big deal Mom, you never cried like this when I vomited before?
Now your pet is worried about you. He musters energy to lick your face, snuggle next to you – and comfort you. Please remember, your pet is extremely intelligent — especially about you’re moods. He’s learned to be in order to be feed on a regular basis.
The best thing you can do is start behaving as you would for a child who would ask, “What’s wrong Mommy, why are you sad?” Putting on a brave face will allow your pet to conserve energy.
When you arrive at home, consider feeding something tasty while you plot out your course of action.
Your veterinarian has either suggested surgery, chemo-, radiation therapy or both. You’ve also read that there are alternative therapies to consider. While you ponder you’re choices, try thinking about the lower back pain, headaches, hemorrhoids, painful menstruation, or a host of other chronic maladies you accept without rancor.
You pet is now looking to you for answers. Crying and being emotional, although understandable, isn’t helping your hairy ‘loved’ one to let go, because he’s being there for you . . . again.
So as you weigh your choices, consider the time, financial commitment, and re-education needed to select the best choices for your pet.
Also, realize that now more than ever, you need to be strong for him, as he’s done for you. Just saying . . .