By Rachel Swalin
bulldog with a veterinarianSaying goodbye to a furry friend is never easy. After years of caring for an animal, pets become as precious as family, making the loss all the more heartbreaking. And during the trying ordeal, pet owners face difficult decisions, from how to care for a pet near death to what to do with the remains. Here's how to make those decisions more confidently and clearly, allowing a peaceful passing for your beloved family member.
1. You should consider end-of-life options while your pet's still young.
Having a plan in place before a pet passes can ease the stress that comes with tough end-of-life questions. "It's hard to make decisions when you're grieving, and you don't want to make them in a flash," says Barbara Hodges, DVM, MBA, a veterinary consultant at the Humane Society Veterinary Association. Dr. Hodges recommends thinking about whether you'd put your pet to sleep if he's suffering and how to handle the remains when he dies throughout the lifespan of the animal. That way if a health emergency arises suddenly, you'll know what to do.
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2. There are surprising ways to tell that your pet's quality of life is deteriorating.
A pressing concern: knowing when it's time to say goodbye. Making that call comes down to evaluating your pet's quality of life, says Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, the vet medicine guide for About.com. But if your pet's not visibly in pain, how can you tell whether the bad days outnumber the good? If your older animal is forgetting their housebreaking or litter-box training, it could be a sign of dementia. Frequent trips to the bathroom and changes in urinary volume could also signal a serious problem. Not showing interest in a favorite toy or your family are other indicators your pet isn't well. Ask your vet for more clues.
3. Your pet can be put to sleep at home.
In the past few years, in-home pet euthanasia has become a popular service. "It allows animals to be in their loving environments and owners to be in their own comfortable space," says Corinna Murray, DVM, CPC, founder of Veterinary Care Navigation, a nationwide service that guides pet owners through complex healthcare decisions. A note of caution: A house call vet may not be prepared to respond to emergencies quickly, and the longer a vet has to travel, the more the service will cost, says Dr. Hodges. As your pet's condition worsens, ask your veterinarian if she can perform euthanasia in your home. If she doesn't offer it, search this directory for in-home euthanasia vets by state.
4. Putting your pet to sleep may appear more alarming than it actually is.
If you choose to be with your pet during the euthanasia procedure, you may notice some startling events after the drug is administered. "Pets' eyes can stay open, and they can make gasping breaths," says Dr. Crosby. "They also can lose control of bowels and urine, and their hearts can beat for a little while after." Although seeing your pet in that condition may be unsettling, rest assured the experience is in no way painful for him.
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5. Hospice care is available for pets nearing the end of their lives.
Animal hospice is a new alternative to aggressive treatment or euthanasia for terminally ill pets, says Kathryn Marocchino, PhD, FT, founder of the Nikki Hospice Foundation, the nation's first nonprofit hospice-care provider for animals. What's hospice for pets like? Trained medical teams help sick pets live pain-free at home in their final days, ultimately "allowing the animal to choose when he wants to go," says Dr. Marocchino. The cost depends on the duration of care, but it's often a few hundred dollars. Check with your vet's office to see if they offer hospice or visit the Nikki Hospice Foundation website for a local referral.
6. Cremation may be easier than a home burial.
Burying your pet at home may carry great sentimental value, but it comes with serious complications, like leaking fluids and odors and strict local land regulations. A burial should also take place within 24 hours of the pet passing away, which may rush you into making a decision about what to do with the remains before you're ready. On the other hand, "Once a pet is cremated, there's time to decide what to do with the ashes," says Dr. Hodges. If you'd like the ashes returned, ask your veterinarian for a private cremation. Then, you can scatter your pet's ashes at a favorite spot or hold on to them as a keepsake.
7. Pet cemeteries are costly, but they can save you time and effort.
If a proper burial is the only option for your dearly departed, a pet cemetery may be your best option. "The pet will be laid to rest at a calm and peaceful place that can be visited on an ongoing basis," says Dr. Hodges. Most pet cemeteries will not only take care of the burial but also pick up the remains from your home, maintain the land around the grave and even perform cremations if you'd just like the ashes. Though the cost can run upwards of $1,000, having one place to turn to for all those options can be a huge weight off your shoulders.
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8. Your child can handle the truth about losing a pet.
While your first instinct may be to shelter your little one from the pain, losing a pet can help kids learn to express their grief in healthy ways. Reactions vary with age, but at any stage it's important to provide your child with a sense of closure. "It allows you to keep the pet a part of you for the rest of your and your child's life," says Dr. Murray. If you're considering putting a pet to sleep, explain to your child that your pet is suffering-and what's going to happen next. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement recommends that children draw pictures or hold a memorial ceremony after a pet is put down to confront their emotions.
9. Pet-loss support options are growing.
It's natural to be overwhelmed with grief when a pet passes away. And it's common for pet owners to be shocked by just how upset they are. "They think they're OK, but then they'll get the remains back and sadness hits them," says Dr. Crosby. "The final bill can set off another wave of questioning and guilt." Fortunately, pet owners can turn to a number of national and local resources for help coping. From hotlines staffed by trained grief counselors to support groups run by community leaders, you'll never be alone in navigating life without your pet. Check out these pet loss resources:
Pet Partners Directory of Pet-Loss Support Groups
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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