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Pets General

When Our Pets Pass Away

Val Cairney August 21, 2020 158

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Welcome to this episode of valid talks pets. In this episode, I’m going to discuss one of the hardest parts of pet Parenthood. And that is when our pet passes away. Sometimes we get our pets as puppies or kittens or young small animals, and we’ve had them for their entire lives. That could easily be 15 to 20 years depending. That is a long relationship and when that pet has to come to the end of its life journey, it is extremely hard to adjust to not having their little faces, or big faces as the case may be, greet us every day. Whether we have had a pet for its entire life, or a shorter time with us as we have acquired them through adoption or re homing. Losing a pet is a monumental loss for pet parents. So let me go through some of the issues, decisions and feelings we go through, when we have to say goodbye to our best friends. No pet parent is immune to dealing with having to say goodbye to their pet when the time comes. Sometimes that time can come abruptly through accident or tragic medical occurrence. My Rottweiler was eight years old when he had just had a visit with the vet to check a problem we thought might be connected to his cruciate ligament. He was sitting on the couch and I was leaving for conference about four hours away. I said goodbye to him and told im what a good boy he was and headed out. The next night I received a distraught phone call that he had laid down in the snow and passed away. Long story short, the vet did a necropsy, and found that he had experienced a massive heart attack. The experience devastated me, especially since I wasn’t there. I don’t need to go into detail because as pet parents, I’m sure everyone listening knows without description how gut wrenching the loss was to me. Now my last three cats actually died of their own accord at home, one in his little bed and one in my arms. I actually give thanks for that because not having to have them euthanized at the vets and having them pass on their own terms, comfortable at home, was the best way for them to cross over.

So let’s talk about the decision for euthanasia. Sometimes our pets become quite ill with cancer or kidney disease, or many other ailments that we know they will not be able to recover. When we get the news of the illness, obviously, our first questions are with regards to the prognosis. How long does my pet have? What can we do to make him comfortable? Is there anything we can do to give him some more time? Is he in pain?

All of these questions are extremely important. Veterinarians know that they have to take time with clients who are experiencing this, and that asking questions and getting answers to the best of their knowledge is the only way someone can make a decision with regards to their pets prognosis. Most of us look to something we can do to buy some more time and keep the pet comfortable. If that is possible, then we usually grab this as we want as much time with our pet and to give ourselves time to prepare for their eventual leaving. I’ll give you a quick story here.

I had a cat, the one that passed in his bed, who had cancer in the mouth. The poor guy had trouble eating, and I did everything to keep him nourished and hydrated. I had him being checked at the vet routinely, but we knew he would not recover, and we were only buying him time. So one day, I thought he wasn’t doing very well. And I really thought that this visit to the vet would end and the decision being made. I even took a box with me just in case. The vet checked him over and we talked and yes, he wasn’t doing well. But she said to me, that her honest opinion was that she didn’t think it was his time. She said he was alert. He knew I was there. And she said, Of course she would do what I thought best. But her opinion was it wasn’t time. I said that was fine by me and I took him home. Four days later, he died in his bed, in his sleep, comfortable, warm and safe in his own surroundings.

She was right. It wasn’t his time. But had the checkup gone the other way, I would have had to make the decision to have him euthanized. And that would entail some other decisions. First, when we have to make the decision for euthanasia, it is extremely important to have as much information as possible. There is a time frame that a pet parent and a vet may be working within. Are we talking about hours, days, months? Either way, we need to know if the pet is in pain. Can this pain be managed or is it time? The other thing to really consider is anxiety. Pets that are starting to know that the time is coming will often exhibit anxiety. (I bet you thought for a moment there meant the humans anxiety.) Pet anxiety is something to monitor as it gives you an indicator of where your pet may be in the course. Pets don’t register pain the same as we do. So although they may be in pain, the anxiety is actually more of an indicator to help us make a decision. Either way, we do not want our pets to suffer. And this is going to be a major factor towards making a decision towards euthanasia. Is our pet suffering, in pain and experiencing high anxiety. Your veterinarian is going to be the only one who can give you advice based in experience and education. Your pet is going to give you information through body language and his bond with you to communicate.

Sometimes the decision is one that we have no choice but to make and that is when the pet is suffering and we just cannot bear to let them go through this. We took in a stray cat through rescue organization as a store cat and I loved her so much. One day, I got a call that she was collapsed on the floor and panting and really needed help. I ran to get her and take her to a vet that was doing emergency. She stabilized. And they wanted to take blood to do some tests. So I said that was fine. But within 10 minutes, they called me back in and she was on oxygen and was crashing. It turns out that she had feline leukemia. And when they took the blood sample, her blood would not clot, and the white blood cell count was almost at zero. They gave me the advice that she could go to the special Veterinary College in our way, but honestly, she wouldn’t have made it. I said, No, let her go. She was crying and gasping for breath. I was there with her the whole time. And very nice for this vet clinic. They told me I could stay as long as I wanted with her after she went, and graciously kept her in their freezer until the ground had thawed as I wanted to bury her on my property. Oh yes, I have a pet cemetery.

Sometimes we have to make a decision to euthanize our senior pet. This one is especially difficult because more than likely you have had this pet for many years, and now old age has compromised their quality of life. Again, time frame here comes into play. How long can you support their aging issues before the pet becomes incapacitated? Again, are they in pain, and has the anxiety level increased? Are they at a place where their quality of life has become so compromised, that you can tell they are not happy and are suffering so many questions but again, have a long consult with your veterinarian and trust your instincts.

So whether we make the decision for euthanasia because we have no choice or it is something we know we will have to do in the short term, when it is decided what will happen? If you are in an emergency situation that having the pet put to sleep at the office is the only choice. However, if you are making the decision for illness or aging reasons, more than likely you will making time for this. Here’s where you will want to decide if you wish to have the pet euthanized at home or at the vet’s office. Not all vets will come to your home to do this. So if this is something you want, you may have to contact another veterinarian or there are some specific veterinarian groups that dedicate a business to home euthanasia, and you can check your area for these companies. If you decide to do the procedure at the office, take your pets blanket or bed with you so they may lay down on something they see as there’s and feel more comfortable. Completely from a physiological standpoint, euthanasia is the overdose of phenobarbital, a seizure medication. In a large dose, it will render the pet unconscious and then shut down the heart and brain function. Most often a sedative has been given to the pet first, so that the sting from the phenobarbital is not noticed as much and helps them pass without involuntary twitching or urinating, or having their eyes not completely close. Both injections will be given through an intravenous set up in one of their legs. It can take approximately two minutes to have the pets succumb to the medication.

So what is the advantage or disadvantage to having your pet euthanized at home or at the vet office? If you’re going to have the vet office take care of your pets remains by having him sent for cremation, having the pet at the office can be more convenient. Services for cremation can include having the pet’s ashes returned to you, or not, and the cost will be specific to your choice. There are lovely urns and holders to choose from, and engraving features that you can discuss with your vet or order online. If you choose the office route, then your euthanasia cost will or should be a bit lower than if the vet came to your home. Some people choose the office for the reason that they do not want the memory of their pet passing in the home where they live, or perhaps to avoid having the children witness the passing. If you have the pet put to sleep at your home. You have the advantage of having the family there to say their goodbyes as it may be awkward to have the whole family at the vet office. Also, if you have other pets, this gives them the opportunity to see the passing of their friend pets have be noted to seek out other pets that have not returned and experience loss and anxiety, wondering what happened to their friend. They are pack animals after all, so an abrupt loss of another pets company can be upsetting and confusing. Seeing their friend passed away, and having the chance to assimilate that can be helpful for the remaining pets. If you are burying your pet at home, then this would be another reason why a home visit would be more convenient. Whether you choose to have your pet euthanized at the office or at home or you are in an emergency situation, there is one thing that is vital to your pet when crossing over. And that is that you remain with them while their life ends. I read an article written by a veterinarian and one of the things he wrote was that he begged owners not to leave their pet for euthanasia. He asked that owners did not leave their pet to transition from life to death in a room full of strangers. He also said that what people don’t know is that pets will search for their owner when they are left. He also said that they are scared, Ill old are dying, and they need your comfort. And I think the biggest statement made was, don’t be a coward because you think it will be hard on you. There is no doubt that seeing our pet pass is incredibly painful, but they really need us and our love and comfort during this time. I do not want my animals leaving this world on a cold steel table without the one person they thought they could trust not being with them. It’s hard, but I really think if we truly love them, we will be there at this most important time.

Now this may sound a bit trivial but a young lady I knew tried her best. To save a baby squirrel, she was upset that it didn’t make it. But I told her that she had done her best. And that’s all the could be asked and just think this little soul left the earth with your care in its heart. I think that made her feel a little bit better.

I want my animals to go to the Rainbow Bridge peaceful with knowledge they were loved and not alone.

So we know that losing a pet can be devastating. And I’m sure that many of you have either experienced this yourself or know someone who has. Some people have an extremely difficult time getting over and moving on from the loss of a pet. Here are some things that have been suggested to help with the process.

First, give yourself time to grieve. I do have to wonder a bit about people who immediately go out and get another dog or cat I don’t think can replace the pet you’ve just lost and are these people allowing themselves to grieve so that they can move on afresh? Or are they trying to ignore or suppress the grief? There is no reason to ignore or hide sadness over the loss. It has happened and you have the right to feel grief. Some people feel guilty for the loss of their pet. If so, well, as hard as it may sound, it is suggested that accepting this feeling of guilt is part of the healing process. There is also no reason why you can’t reach out to get support when going through this time. Holding a ceremony is suggested. When our little store cat passed from feline leukemia, I retrieved her from the vets freezer in the spring, got a really nice decorative box for her, and dug a hole in the pet cemetery on my property. The staff all came to my house and we said a little something thing and at the invitation of one of our members, we all had a little drink of whiskey to toast her to her next life. They have nine you know.

Another idea is to create a memorial. Photos in a special frame, the ashes a quilt or pillow with their image or something on the grave, all gives us the feeling that they will always be in our thoughts. And last but not least, moving forward does have to happen. It can become tricky when there is young children involved when a pet passes. Obviously how this is handled is going to be decided by the parents. But it is suggested that it be explained to them in an honest way. And if the parents feel comfortable having them witness the passing, then that is up to them. And it is recommended that you do allow the children to grieve and not get a replacement pet. Even so we do all these things. Sometimes It is just a matter of time, to heal.

And why is it so painful to lose one of our pets? A psychologist pointed out in an article that it is not just the pet we lose, it’s the source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort. The routine we have with our pets give stability to our lives. And many of you know how hard it is to see their collar or their feed bowls after they have passed. But the thing to remember is that feeling wracked by grief when a cherished pet dies is quite normal. Non pet people may think you are a bit weird or over the top if you wish to have a funeral or create a legacy by planting a tree. I have forget-me-nots that bloom around my cemetery. But it’s best not to let non pet people shame you into thinking you need to hide your grief. But if your close friends are becoming concerned that you haven’t moved on, then there is no shame in seeking professional help.

Well, having a pet for many is something that just cannot be without. I know that I would at least have to have a cat when I’m old and talking to myself, at least the cat will listen to me. We cherish their companionship and they break our hearts when they have to leave us. Whether we have had to make the decision to let them go, or they went on their own, or they pass by an unintended incident. We can help ourselves through the grieving process by letting ourselves actually grieve. We can have the remains buried in a specific Pet Cemetery, or have their ashes returned to us where we can put them in a place of honor. We can memorialize them with photos and special garden ornaments or with rituals or surfaces. I have a stuffy Rottweiler in my living room who wears my rotties last color with his ID tag still on. We do what we have to do. Loving them is easy, saying goodbye is the hardest part. That brings me to my Pet Peeves section.

Pet Peeves

So that leads me to my pet peeves section.

Well, not too much to peeve about today. But one thing I do want to stress is the idea of leaving a pet at the vet’s office to be euthanized. Do not say you just couldn’t face them dying. It’s time to put on your big boy or girl pants and step up to the plate here. Your pet does not deserve to be abandoned at the vet’s office at the end of their life. This is appalling behavior. And if this is something you think you will do, then you may want to rethink being a pet parent again in the future. You are there everything. Don’t just appoint them. Ask your vet about options you may have when it’s time for you to face the inevitable loss of your pet, I’m sure they will be able to give you some reassuring advice, because as I say, knowing is caring.

I would like to end this episode with The Rainbow Bridge poem. It’s a classic and says it all.

The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Author is anonymous.

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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