Why do we have pets?

What a question!

If we step back, some of us will answer, inaccurately, that we have pets because ‘we’ve always had pets.’

Decision-making time . . .

Answering in this way portends no real knowledge of self. It’s like saying we go to church, because we always have. It speaks simply to our satisfaction or our reluctance for change, like . . . driving a Chevy.

I posit that having a pet speaks to us, quietly, about not taking ourselves too seriously.

It’s like the running back that scores the winning touchdown and says to the cameras, ‘I’m going to Disneyland!’ His glory-seeking ballon pops when his mother/wife asks him to take out the trash or pick up some milk. You see, you’re still ‘Junior’ to someone; and that’s a good thing. A pet ‘sees’ you in a similar vein.

Deep down, your pet, dogs in particular, will love you whether you score the touchdown or fumble the ball. That’s why we love them so.

So what is the best way to return love to our furry ones? Sometimes, it’s knowing when it’s time to let them go.

Having a housecall practice affords one ample experiences in grief that many will never see in a hospital setting. Whether employed by a hospital or taking a pet into a hospital, you know you’re not at home, and for the most of us, we act differently when ‘out of the house.’

I received a phone call, about a month ago, from a woman who heard a radio broadcast where the veterinarian guest host was taking call-ins from listeners concerned about their pet’s medical condition.

“A woman caller . . ,” the client shared when I arrived at her home late one evening, “shared that she was worried because her cat was dragging her swollen hind limb.” I look down at my cat and said, “Me too.”

“The caller described her pet’s leg as hard, like a melon, and it spanned the whole knee, above and below the joint. The doctor said it was probably cancer, a fibrosarcoma, and a poor prognosis. He apologized for the grim prognosis, and the caller hung up, … crying. That’s when I reached for the phone to call you.”

What’s difficult for us, especially older pet parents, is letting go. It tugs at us, and reminds us of our own mortality. That’s a difficult conversation to have with others, let alone with ourselves.

Facing that decision? Take the guesswork out of the equation and grab a sheet of paper. When you see marked changes in your pet’s appearance and behavior, start tallying the scores from the questionnaire below, as the numbers decrease over time, consider doing what’s best for your pet and opt for a consultation where one option is a compassionate euthanasia.

Grade your pet with the following 0-10 score; with 0 responding very negatively to the below questions and 10 responding very positively.

Score Criteria

0-10 HURT- Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Adequate pain control-Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Are they moving around or just laying there? Are they laying in their urine or feces? Do they respond to your touch or do they just lay there? Do they get up to eat? Do they get up to greet you? Do they seek to be with you? Do they hide? How are they breathing? Do they need oxygen? Are they gasping? Panting? What color is their tongue: pink, blue purple or red?

0-10 HUNGER- Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help?
Does the patient require a feeding tube?

Is the patient dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids as needed (daily to weekly) to supplement fluid intake.

The patient should be kept brushed and cleaned, particularly after elimination, avoid pressure sores and keep all wounds clean.

0-10 HAPPINESS- Does the pet express joy and interest? Is he responsive to things around him (family toys, etc.)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored, or afraid? Is the pet hiding or does it interact?
Is there any change from previous behavior?

0-10 MOBILITY- Can the patient get up without assistance? ( Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as his caregivers are committed to helping him.) You have to be honest with yourself- do you have the time, and energy to keep a paralyzed or disabled pet clean? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g. a cart)? Does he feel like going for a walk? Is he having seizures or stumbling?

When bad days outnumber the good days, quality of life might be too compromised. When a healthy human -animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware the end is near. It is better to end the relationship before the burden of caring for your pet becomes overwhelming. That time will be different for every person. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.

Keeping track on a calendar or in a jar with marbles really helps us to keep track of the good days and bad days visually. We tend to forget the bad days especially if they ended up with a tail wag or purr. It is our duty to keep our best friend from suffering. We are fortunate in veterinary medicine to be able to humanely remove suffering.

Total Score
A total > 35 points is acceptable for a good Hospice: providing good at home pain relief and nursing care.

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