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PET LOSS

 

Angell Memorial Animal Hospital

General Practice & Preventative Medicine

COPING WITH LOSS

The loss of any close friend can be devastating, and pets can be among our closest companions. A pet frequently provides unconditional love, emotional security, and loyalty. Routine activities with an animal companion often provide structure, fun, relaxation, and social contact in our daily lives. The death of a cherished pet can mean the loss of an entire lifestyle as well as a devoted companion. Lack of understanding and support from people around us can make this period even more difficult.

BE PREPARED

In some instances the death of a pet can be anticipated; the animal may be very old or suffering from an extended illness. Other pet owners may face a sudden loss – the result of an accident or short-term illness. Things that will need to be considered with a gravely ill or seriously injured animal include the pet’s quality of life, emotional and financial cost, and when or if euthanasia should be considered. It is best to have contemplated these difficult matters beforehand.

ACCEPT AND EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS

It is important to understand that grief is a personal experience and there are no right or wrong ways to feel it. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge what you are feeling and somehow release it. Try writing your thoughts down in a journal. A good long cry can help, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to your friends or a counselor.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE

Seek out support. Well-meaning friends who don’t understand the bond between you and your pet may say, “He was only a dog.” Others may encourage you to “get another one,” as if your lifelong companion could be easily replaced. This can make expression of your pain even harder. It is important to realize that you are not alone. A support group can act as a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation.

DO WHAT YOU CAN TO EASE THE PAIN

Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Talk. Write. Many people find comfort in rituals, like paying their final respects with a brief service or setting up a small memorial with photos and objects that had significance in the pet’s life, such as a collar bowl, or toy. It’s important to set aside time to think about the good times and remember to pay extra attention to surviving pets. They may need consolation during this difficult period too.

SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS, SPECIAL CONCERNS

The death of a long-time companion can be particularly painful for those who shared a unique relationship with their pet. This includes anyone whose pet was the sole or primary companion, or who was either physically or emotionally dependent upon their pet. Children, the elderly, and handicapped pet owners often have unique bonds with companion animals and may need special attention and support when a pet dies.

Recognizing the tasks of grief can give you landmarks on the path to resolution, and help you recognize that your feelings are normal. The term "task" is used rather than "stage" to avoid giving the impression that grief is something marked by well-defined milestones. The mourner should not feel that he or she must follow some pre-set list, each lasting a determined period of time.

Remember that the grieving process for each individual is as unique as each lost relationship. There is no set pattern or time period for recovery, but there are some general patterns.

Denial. Most people will experience a period of denial, refusing to believe the pet is dying or has died. Denial is usually strongest when there is little time for acceptance, such as with an accident or short-term illness.

Bargaining. For pets facing imminent death, many people will try to make a deal with God, themselves, or even the pet, in a desperate attempt to deter fate.

Anger. In frustration, anger may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including friends, family, veterinarians, and even the pet owner himself.

Guilt. Guilt is probably the most common emotion resulting from the death of a companion animal. As the pet’s primary caretaker, all decisions regarding care are the owner’s responsibility. When a pet dies, the owner often feels guilty about actions taken or not taken, even about things that happened before the pet became ill. The most attentive caretaker may feel he or she should have somehow done more. But we all do our best with the information, knowledge, and resources available to us. It is important to try not to second-guess the decisions you made along the way, and to remember that you tried to act in your pet’s best interest.

Depression. Depression can indicate the start of acceptance. It is normal to withdraw and contemplate the meaning of the relationship in solitude. Deep and lasting despondency, however, requires professional help.

Acceptance. Now is the time to remember the good times. The daily reminders become a little less painful. You find you can now start to think about the future.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO CONSIDER ANOTHER PET?

A new pet is just that - a new pet. He or she can never replace the pet you lost. If you decide to get another pet, you will be entering into an entirely new and different relationship. Be sure that you are psychologically, physically, and financially ready and willing to commit the time and energy needed to care for a new companion, without resentment or unrealistic expectations.

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EXPLAINING PET LOSS TO CHILDREN: SIX DO’S AND DON’TS

 

Alex Lieber

General Practice & Preventative Medicine

PET LOSS & CHILDREN

Death and dying are two of the hardest facts of life to explain to children. Very often, the death of a family pet is a child’s first encounter with this immutable law of nature. How we handle this event can have a far-reaching impact on our children’s understanding of death and dying.

Eleven-year-old Maria, for instance, was used to greeting her cat Feifel every day after school. One day, he didn’t appear. Maria and her mother found Feifel under a bed, breathing weakly. The veterinarian said Feifel had heart disease. He might be able to save him, but Feifel was 14 and suffered from several other age-related problems.

His quality of life would only grow worse. The most humane course to take was euthanasia. Later, her family held a memorial service, and Maria wrote poems about him.

AN INFORMAL GUIDE TO A CHILD’S PSYCHE

At 11, Maria understood euthanasia and the finality of death. It didn’t make the grieving and sense of loss any easier, but she knew that all living things eventually die. After some time, she was able to remember her pet with more love than hurt.

But children younger than Maria often view their relationship with a pet as indefinite. They don’t understand that animals run on a different biological clock, or that illness or injury may make euthanasia the best option.

At all ages, honesty is the best policy, says Marty Tously, a bereavement counselor. “That means using the words death and dying, and explaining the permanence of death. You do it gently but without confusing what dying actually means.”

Tously is a counselor with the Pet Grief Support Service. She says that a child’s ability to understand what death means depends on his/her emotional and cognitive development, but outlined the generally understood guideline of how children perceive death and dying:

Under 2: A child can feel and respond to a pet’s death, based on the reaction of those around him or her. A child picks up the stress felt by family members, no matter what the cause.

2 to 5: The child will miss the animal as a playmate, but not necessarily as a love object. They will see death as a temporary state – something like the way leaves fall off a tree in fall but grow back in the spring. As they perceive the trauma around them, however, they may regress in their behavior (e.g., thumb sucking).

5 to 9: Children begin to perceive death as permanent, but they may indulge in “magical thinking,” believing that death can be defied or bargained with. This is also the period when children recognize a correlation between what they think and what happens. For instance, a child may resent taking care of the pet and wish – however briefly – that the pet would die. If the pet then dies, the child is often consumed with guilt. Parents need to reassure children that they did not cause the pet’s death.

10 and up: Children generally understand that all living things will eventually die, and that death is total. Understanding and accepting are two different things, however. They may go through the normal stages of grief that grownups do: denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance. (To learn about the stages of grief, see the story Coping with Pet Loss.) Or they may react in other ways:

· Depending on the age, the child may regress (sucking their thumb or temper tantrums that they had outgrown).

· An older child may withdraw from friends and family for a while. Schoolwork may suffer and they may seem uninterested in extracurricular activities.

· Children may fear abandonment. If a pet can die, then they may reason that their parents could die as well.

· Children often become intensely curious about death and what happens to the body. They may ask for details that you may find uncomfortable to explain. These are questions you should answer in a straightforward, gentle and careful manner.

DO’S AND DON’TS

Tously explains that the worst course of action is to lie (to say the animal went away) or to use confusing euphemisms, such as the phrase “put to sleep.” Children will eventually learn the truth, and lying can breed resentment and destroy trust between parent and child. “Later in life, when the child learns the truth, they’ll wonder what else the parent lied about,” she says.

Likewise, euphemisms can cause anxiety or confusion because children take what you say literally. “If you say a pet is put to sleep, the child may suffer sleep anxiety,” says Tously. She recalls one child who was told his cocker spaniel just “went away.” He awaited his dog’s return, and upon learning the dog had been buried wanted to unearth the dog. “If you say ‘God has taken your pet because he was special,’ the child may resent God, and fear who might be next.”

· Be open and honest. This includes the pet’s health and euthanasia. “If a pet is terminally ill and needs to be euthanized,” Tously says, “the child needs to be told as soon as possible by the parent.” Again, avoid those tempting euphemisms that cloud understanding, such as telling a child the pet was put to sleep. Use the words death and dying to make your meaning clear.
Some children want to be present during euthanasia and most will be very curious about the process. Tously says you should answer their questions. As for allowing the child to be present, some veterinarians are firmly against it; others say it depends on the child’s age and maturity.

· Make sure the child understands what “dying” means. Explain that the animal’s body stopped working. Depending on your religious beliefs and what the child can understand, you might explain the concept of a soul. However, it is important for the child to know that the pet has died and will not be coming back.

· Be available to let your child discuss his/her feelings about what happened. You may want to hold your own service to memorialize the pet and to say goodbye formally. Some people plant trees in a special spot in the yard, others bury the pet in a cemetery so the family can visit. Encourage your child to show his/her feelings by talking or writing about the fun times they had with their pet.

· Show your own feelings. This tells the child that the pet was special and that they are not grieving alone. You can also encourage your child to open up, which can help the healing process.

· Tell your child’s teachers about the loss, so they will understand why your child is behaving differently.

· Don’t blame the veterinarian. Some parents, especially those who fear explaining euthanasia to their children, find it easier to lay it all on the vet. This is not only unfair to the veterinarian, but potentially harmful to the child. He or she may grow up distrusting veterinarians and, by extension, doctors and other medical professionals.
In addition, parents shouldn’t throw the responsibility of telling the children what needs to be done on the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help the parent explain why euthanasia may be the most humane option, and answer questions the child may have.

Parents often want to ease their child’s hurt by rushing out and buying another pet. Tously says this is a mistake. “The last thing you want to do is convey the impression that the pet – a family member – is replaceable,” she says. Wait until the child expresses an interest in another pet.

Children are very resilient, and they usually learn to accept their pet is gone. If a child persists with nightmares or seems unable to cope, however, it may be necessary to talk with a counselor.

WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP

Local shelters often hold workshops and support groups to help people after pet loss. Contact your local shelter for information. There are also a number of organizations dedicated to helping people cope around the country. To find one in your state, visit the Delta Society Web page at www.deltasociety.org/dsn701.htm

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WHEN TO CONSIDER EUTHANASIA IN CATS

 

Vetsuite Staff

General Practice & Preventative Medicine

A CAT'S QUALITY OF LIFE

Many cats suffer with chronic diseases, such as cancer, that can often be managed in such a way that life is prolonged, although the quality of life is greatly diminished. For most cat owners this issue greatly influences the decision concerning euthanasia. Certainly, quality of life is a personal judgment; you know your animal companion better than anyone else. And while your veterinarian can guide you with objective information about diseases, and even provide a personal perspective of a disease condition, the final decision about euthanasia rests with you.

WHAT AILING CATS SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO

If you are considering euthanasia, here are some guidelines to help you decide whether your cat would benefit. Cats with chronic or incurable diseases that are given proper medication and care should be able to:

· Eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath

· Act interested in what’s going on around them

· Do mild exercise

· Have control of their urine and bowel movements - unless the disease affects one of these organ systems

· Appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain
Of course, whenever there is a chronic condition, some days will be better than others and one should learn to expect the natural “ups and downs” that attend most chronic disease conditions. You must determine what balance is acceptable for your own situation. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the diagnosis or treatment of your cat's disease.

THE EFFECTS OF MEDICATION

If your cat is taking medication for a disease condition, ask your veterinarian if side effects of the medicine could be involved with any adverse symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea (but DON’T stop giving prescribed medication until you speak with your veterinarian). Sometimes it is the medicine, not the disease, that makes a pet appear more ill and adjusting the dose or changing the medicine can have a very positive effect.

THE HIGH COST OF CARE

Of course, some diseases are very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to treat. The medical bills that may accumulate can influence your decision regarding euthanasia. These are practical decisions that must be made relative to your own financial and family situations. Though a lack of financial or personal resources for medical care may be a source of guilt to you, it is better to discuss the overall situation with your veterinarian rather than allow your pet to suffer without proper veterinary medical care.

THE HARDEST DECISION

Euthanasia – often referred to as “putting a pet to sleep” or “putting an animal down” – literally means an “easy and painless death." It is the deliberate act of ending life, and pet owners that must make this decision often feel anxiety or even guilt.

Before the procedure is done, the pet owner will be asked to sign a paper that is an “authorization for euthanasia” or similar document. Euthanasia usually is performed by a veterinarian and is a humane and virtually painless procedure.

Most pet owners are given the following options for witnessing the procedure. They may be present with the cat during the euthanasia. They may wish to see their cat after euthanasia. Or they may want to say goodbye to their cat before the euthanasia and not see him after the procedure.

WILL IT HURT?

Note: The following is a description of a typical euthanasia. If you do not wish to read about this procedure, please close this document.

Euthanasia is very humane and virtually painless. First, you will be asked to sign a paper – an “authorization for euthanasia” (or similar document). Once you have decided upon your involvement n the euthanasia process, you will need to decide what you would like to have done with the remains. You can discuss your options with your veterinarian before the euthanasia procedure.

Euthanasia is usually performed by a veterinarian. The most typical procedure involves an intravenous injection of a barbiturate anesthetic given at a high concentration (overdose). In general, the euthanasia is rapid, usually within seconds, and very peaceful. Your cat will just go to sleep. On rare occasions there may be a brief vocalization or cry as consciousness is lost; this is not pain although you may misinterpreted it as such.

Within seconds of starting the injection the anesthetic overdose will cause the heart to slow and then stop, and any circulation in the body will cease. As the heart stops and the blood pressure decreases, the unconscious animal will stop breathing, circulation to the brain will cease and your pet will die peacefully.

Once your cat has died, you might observe involuntary muscle contractions or respiratory gasps about one or two minutes after the loss of consciousness and circulation. Again this is not evidence of pain or consciousness, but instead, it represents a physiologic response that occurs whenever the brain is deprived of circulation. The unconscious animal may also lose bladder or bowel control. Veterinarians often cover the pet immediately after injecting the euthanasia solution to partially shield the pet owner from these physiologic responses, which may still be disturbing.

AFTER THE GOODBYE

Before the euthanasia, discuss what you want done with the body with your veterinarian. Again, this is a matter of personal taste and preference.

· Burial at home. Many people who own their homes chose to bury their pet in their yards. Great care must be given to bury him deep enough – at least three feet - to deter predators. It is recommended to wrap your pet in plastic and place several large rocks on top of their remains before covering with earth. Many cities have ordinances against home burial so check with your local officials before laying your pet to rest.

· Cemeteries. Similar to human burial, a casket and headstone are selected. Services are available with or without viewing of the remains. Ask your veterinarian or check your local telephone directory to find a nearby pet cemetery.

· Cremation. Typically, cremation is available in most large cities. Some crematories will privately cremate your pet so you can save the ashes for scattering, burial or storing in an urn. Check with your veterinarian about contacting an animal crematory center.

· Other options. There are a few nontraditional choices available regarding the handling of pet remains. Some people choose to consult a taxidermist and others may be interested in cryogenics, which involves freezing the remains. Research and many telephone calls may be necessary to find sources for these options.

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GRIEF IN DOGS AND CATS

 

Dr. Dawn Ruben

General Practice & Preventative Medicine

THE LOSS OF A PET

Because our pets cannot speak, we don't really know what what they are thinking. We must base our interpretations of their emotional state on their behavior – what they do in certain situations and under specific circumstances.

When a person experiences the death of a human loved one, we may know they feel grief based on what they say. Very often, however, it is how they react, what they do that tells us they are suffering. They lose their focus, become listless and disoriented, don't eat and become disinterested in what is happening around them. They may cry or go without sleep or they may sleep more.

An animal that is experiencing the loss of another animal companion may react similarly. "Some animals can actually become depressed when they lose a loved one," says Monique D. Chretien, MSc, AHT, Animal Behavior Consultant. "They show symptoms similar to humans such as loss of interest in their favorite activities and sleeping more than usual. However, sometimes dogs and cats hide and sleep more than usual when they are ill, so you should consult with your veterinarian before seeing a behaviorist if your pet exhibits symptoms such as these."

Your pet may lose his appetite, become disoriented, or become more clingy. If the deceased pet was taken to a veterinarian to be euthanized, the grieving pet may sit at the window for days watching for her return. Animal behaviorists commonly call this emotional state, separation anxiety. On the surface, the pet's behavior is similar to that of a person experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a Companion Animal Mourning Project in 1996. The study found that 46% of cats ate less than usual after the death of another cat companion. In some extreme cases, the cat actually starved to death. About 70% of cats meowed more than normal or meowed less. Study respondents indicated that surviving cats changed the quantity and location of sleep. More than half the surviving pets became more affectionate and clingy with their caregivers. Overall, the study revealed that 65% of cats exhibited four or more behavioral changes after losing a pet companion.

If your pet shows signs that she is grieving the loss of an animal or human family member, provide her with more attention and affection. "Try to take her mind off it by engaging her in a favorite activity," says Chretien. If she enjoys human company, invite friends that she likes to visit and spend time with her. Use environmental enrichment techniques such as balls filled with treats to help keep her busy. Hide toys at her favorite spots for her to find during the day.

If your pet is too depressed over the loss, she may not respond to extra activity right away. The old saying, "Time heals all wounds," has meaning for your pet, too. "Time is one thing that may help," says Chretien.

If your dog is barking more or whining, distract her. Don't give her treats to distract her or you might unintentionally reinforce the barking. "Giving attention during any behavior will help to reinforce it so be sure you are not reinforcing a behavior that you don't like," says Chretien. "Give attention at a time when your dog is engaging in behaviors that you do like, such as when she is resting quietly or watching the birds. As the pain of the loss begins to subside, so should the vocalizing as long as it is related to the grieving process."

You may also want to consult with your veterinarian regarding drug therapy to help decrease your dog's anxiety, advises Chretien.

If you are thinking about adding another pet, wait until you and your surviving pet have adjusted to the loss. Forcing your pet to get to know a newcomer will only add stress to her already anxiety-ridden emotional state. And be patient. Your pet may miss her companion as much as you do.

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EUTHANASIA IN CATS

 

Dr. Debra Primovic

General Practice & Preventative Medicine

OVERVIEW

Euthanasia literally means an “easy and painless death.” You may know it as “putting a pet to sleep” or “putting an animal down.” It is the deliberate act of ending life and undoubtedly it is a difficult issue. Pet owners who must make this decision often feel anxiety or even guilt, but when a pet is very ill with little hope of recovery, the question of “When is it time?” becomes most important.

It’s a common situation: Many pets suffer with chronic diseases such as cancer that can often be managed in such a way that life is prolonged, although the quality of life is greatly diminished. For most pet owners this issue greatly influences the decision concerning euthanasia. Certainly, quality of life is a personal judgment; you know your cat better than anyone else. And while your veterinarian can guide you with objective information about diseases, and even provide a personal perspective of a disease condition, the final decision about euthanasia rests with you.

VETERINARY CARE

If you are considering euthanasia, some of the following points may help you gauge your pet's quality of life.

Pets with chronic or incurable diseases that are given proper medication and care should be able to eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath.

Your pet should act interested in “what’s going on” around him, be able to perform mild exercise and have control of his urine and bowel movements (unless the principal disease affects one of these organ systems).

Even your ill pet should appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain. Of course, whenever there is a chronic condition, some days will be better than others and one should learn to expect the natural “ups and downs” that attend most chronic disease conditions. You need to determine what balance is acceptable.
There are also veterinary issues and medical care issues that may influence your judgment. If your pet is taking medication for a disease condition, ask your veterinarian if side effects of the medicine could be involved with any adverse symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea (but DON’T stop giving prescribed medication until you speak with your veterinarian). Sometimes it is the medicine, not the disease, that makes a pet appear more ill and adjusting the dose or changing the medicine can have a very positive effect.

Of course, some diseases are very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to treat. The medical bills that may accumulate can influence your decision regarding euthanasia. These are practical decisions that must be made relative to your own financial and family situations. Though a lack of financial or personal resources for medical care may be a source of guilt to you, it is better to discuss the overall situation with your veterinarian rather than allow your pet to suffer without proper veterinary medical care.

WILL IT HURT?

The following is a description of a typical euthanasia procedure. If you do not wish to read about this procedure, please close this document now.

Euthanasia is very humane and virtually painless. First, you will be asked to sign a paper – an “authorization for euthanasia” (or similar document). If you decide to go ahead you will be given a number of options: you may be present (with the pet) during the euthanasia; you may be absent for the procedure but wish to see your pet after euthanasia; or you may want to say goodbye to your pet prior to euthanasia and not see him again. Once you have decided upon your involvement in the euthanasia process, you will need to decide what you would like to have done with the remains. You can discuss your options with your veterinarian before the euthanasia procedure.

Euthanasia is usually performed by a veterinarian. The most typical procedure involves an intravenous injection of a barbiturate anesthetic given at a high concentration (overdose). In general, the euthanasia is rapid, usually within seconds, and very peaceful. Your pet will just go to sleep. On rare occasions there may be a brief vocalization or cry as consciousness is lost; this is not pain although you may misinterpreted it as such.

Within seconds of starting the injection the anesthetic overdose will cause the heart to slow and then stop, and any circulation in the body will cease. As the heart stops and the blood pressure decreases, the unconscious animal will stop breathing, circulation to the brain will cease and your pet will die peacefully.

Once your pet has died, you might observe involuntary muscle contractions or respiratory gasps about one or two minutes after the loss of consciousness and circulation. Again this is not evidence of pain or consciousness, but instead, it represents a physiologic response that occurs whenever the brain is deprived of circulation. The unconscious animal may also lose bladder or bowel control. Veterinarians often cover the pet immediately after injecting the euthanasia solution to partially shield the pet owner from these physiologic responses, which may still be disturbing.

HOME CARE

Keep your pet as comfortable as possible during any chronic illness or disease. Encourage him to eat and drink, unless your veterinarian has asked you not to do so, and keep him clean and dry. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the diagnosis or treatment of your pet's disease.

Pet loss by natural causes, trauma or euthanasia is always difficult, and there are pet loss support groups available throughout the country. If you have specific questions about euthanasia or you would like more information about pet loss support groups, please contact your veterinarian.

Tags: ,

GRIEF IN DOGS AND CATS

 

Dr. Dawn Ruben
General Practice & Preventative Medicine

THE LOSS OF A PET

Because our pets cannot speak, we don't really know what what they are thinking. We must base our interpretations of their emotional state on their behavior – what they do in certain situations and under specific circumstances.

When a person experiences the death of a human loved one, we may know they feel grief based on what they say. Very often, however, it is how they react, what they do that tells us they are suffering. They lose their focus, become listless and disoriented, don't eat and become disinterested in what is happening around them. They may cry or go without sleep or they may sleep more.

An animal that is experiencing the loss of another animal companion may react similarly. "Some animals can actually become depressed when they lose a loved one," says Monique D. Chretien, MSc, AHT, Animal Behavior Consultant. "They show symptoms similar to humans such as loss of interest in their favorite activities and sleeping more than usual. However, sometimes dogs and cats hide and sleep more than usual when they are ill, so you should consult with your veterinarian before seeing a behaviorist if your pet exhibits symptoms such as these."

Your pet may lose his appetite, become disoriented, or become more clingy. If the deceased pet was taken to a veterinarian to be euthanized, the grieving pet may sit at the window for days watching for her return. Animal behaviorists commonly call this emotional state, separation anxiety. On the surface, the pet's behavior is similar to that of a person experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a Companion Animal Mourning Project in 1996. The study found that 46% of cats ate less than usual after the death of another cat companion. In some extreme cases, the cat actually starved to death. About 70% of cats meowed more than normal or meowed less. Study respondents indicated that surviving cats changed the quantity and location of sleep. More than half the surviving pets became more affectionate and clingy with their caregivers. Overall, the study revealed that 65% of cats exhibited four or more behavioral changes after losing a pet companion.

If your pet shows signs that she is grieving the loss of an animal or human family member, provide her with more attention and affection. "Try to take her mind off it by engaging her in a favorite activity," says Chretien. If she enjoys human company, invite friends that she likes to visit and spend time with her. Use environmental enrichment techniques such as balls filled with treats to help keep her busy. Hide toys at her favorite spots for her to find during the day.

If your pet is too depressed over the loss, she may not respond to extra activity right away. The old saying, "Time heals all wounds," has meaning for your pet, too. "Time is one thing that may help," says Chretien.

If your dog is barking more or whining, distract her. Don't give her treats to distract her or you might unintentionally reinforce the barking. "Giving attention during any behavior will help to reinforce it so be sure you are not reinforcing a behavior that you don't like," says Chretien. "Give attention at a time when your dog is engaging in behaviors that you do like, such as when she is resting quietly or watching the birds. As the pain of the loss begins to subside, so should the vocalizing as long as it is related to the grieving process."

You may also want to consult with your veterinarian regarding drug therapy to help decrease your dog's anxiety, advises Chretien.

If you are thinking about adding another pet, wait until you and your surviving pet have adjusted to the loss. Forcing your pet to get to know a newcomer will only add stress to her already anxiety-ridden emotional state. And be patient. Your pet may miss her companion as much as you do.

Tags: ,

EXPLAINING PET LOSS TO CHILDREN: SIX DO’S AND DON’TS

 

Alex Lieber
General Practice & Preventative Medicine

PET LOSS&CHILDREN

Death and dying are two of the hardest facts of life to explain to children. Very often, the death of a family pet is a child’s first encounter with this immutable law of nature. How we handle this event can have a far-reaching impact on our children’s understanding of death and dying.

Eleven-year-old Maria, for instance, was used to greeting her cat Feifel every day after school. One day, he didn’t appear. Maria and her mother found Feifel under a bed, breathing weakly. The veterinarian said Feifel had heart disease. He might be able to save him, but Feifel was 14 and suffered from several other age-related problems.

His quality of life would only grow worse. The most humane course to take was euthanasia. Later, her family held a memorial service, and Maria wrote poems about him.

AN INFORMAL GUIDE TO A CHILD’S PSYCHE

At 11, Maria understood euthanasia and the finality of death. It didn’t make the grieving and sense of loss any easier, but she knew that all living things eventually die. After some time, she was able to remember her pet with more love than hurt.

But children younger than Maria often view their relationship with a pet as indefinite. They don’t understand that animals run on a different biological clock, or that illness or injury may make euthanasia the best option.

At all ages, honesty is the best policy, says Marty Tously, a bereavement counselor. “That means using the words death and dying, and explaining the permanence of death. You do it gently but without confusing what dying actually means.”

Tously is a counselor with the Pet Grief Support Service. She says that a child’s ability to understand what death means depends on his/her emotional and cognitive development, but outlined the generally understood guideline of how children perceive death and dying:

Under 2: A child can feel and respond to a pet’s death, based on the reaction of those around him or her. A child picks up the stress felt by family members, no matter what the cause.

2 to 5: The child will miss the animal as a playmate, but not necessarily as a love object. They will see death as a temporary state – something like the way leaves fall off a tree in fall but grow back in the spring. As they perceive the trauma around them, however, they may regress in their behavior (e.g., thumb sucking).

5 to 9: Children begin to perceive death as permanent, but they may indulge in “magical thinking,” believing that death can be defied or bargained with. This is also the period when children recognize a correlation between what they think and what happens. For instance, a child may resent taking care of the pet and wish – however briefly – that the pet would die. If the pet then dies, the child is often consumed with guilt. Parents need to reassure children that they did not cause the pet’s death.

10 and up: Children generally understand that all living things will eventually die, and that death is total. Understanding and accepting are two different things, however. They may go through the normal stages of grief that grownups do: denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance. (To learn about the stages of grief, see the story Coping with Pet Loss.) Or they may react in other ways:

·  Depending on the age, the child may regress (sucking their thumb or temper tantrums that they had outgrown).

·  An older child may withdraw from friends and family for a while. Schoolwork may suffer and they may seem uninterested in extracurricular activities.

·  Children may fear abandonment. If a pet can die, then they may reason that their parents could die as well.

·  Children often become intensely curious about death and what happens to the body. They may ask for details that you may find uncomfortable to explain. These are questions you should answer in a straightforward, gentle and careful manner.

DO’S AND DON’TS

Tously explains that the worst course of action is to lie (to say the animal went away) or to use confusing euphemisms, such as the phrase “put to sleep.” Children will eventually learn the truth, and lying can breed resentment and destroy trust between parent and child. “Later in life, when the child learns the truth, they’ll wonder what else the parent lied about,” she says.

Likewise, euphemisms can cause anxiety or confusion because children take what you say literally. “If you say a pet is put to sleep, the child may suffer sleep anxiety,” says Tously. She recalls one child who was told his cocker spaniel just “went away.” He awaited his dog’s return, and upon learning the dog had been buried wanted to unearth the dog. “If you say ‘God has taken your pet because he was special,’ the child may resent God, and fear who might be next.”

·  Be open and honest. This includes the pet’s health and euthanasia. “If a pet is terminally ill and needs to be euthanized,” Tously says, “the child needs to be told as soon as possible by the parent.” Again, avoid those tempting euphemisms that cloud understanding, such as telling a child the pet was put to sleep. Use the words death and dying to make your meaning clear.
Some children want to be present during euthanasia and most will be very curious about the process. Tously says you should answer their questions. As for allowing the child to be present, some veterinarians are firmly against it; others say it depends on the child’s age and maturity.

·  Make sure the child understands what “dying” means. Explain that the animal’s body stopped working. Depending on your religious beliefs and what the child can understand, you might explain the concept of a soul. However, it is important for the child to know that the pet has died and will not be coming back.

·  Be available to let your child discuss his/her feelings about what happened. You may want to hold your own service to memorialize the pet and to say goodbye formally. Some people plant trees in a special spot in the yard, others bury the pet in a cemetery so the family can visit. Encourage your child to show his/her feelings by talking or writing about the fun times they had with their pet.

·  Show your own feelings. This tells the child that the pet was special and that they are not grieving alone. You can also encourage your child to open up, which can help the healing process.

·  Tell your child’s teachers about the loss, so they will understand why your child is behaving differently.

·  Don’t blame the veterinarian. Some parents, especially those who fear explaining euthanasia to their children, find it easier to lay it all on the vet. This is not only unfair to the veterinarian, but potentially harmful to the child. He or she may grow up distrusting veterinarians and, by extension, doctors and other medical professionals.
In addition, parents shouldn’t throw the responsibility of telling the children what needs to be done on the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help the parent explain why euthanasia may be the most humane option, and answer questions the child may have.

Parents often want to ease their child’s hurt by rushing out and buying another pet. Tously says this is a mistake. “The last thing you want to do is convey the impression that the pet – a family member – is replaceable,” she says. Wait until the child expresses an interest in another pet.

Children are very resilient, and they usually learn to accept their pet is gone. If a child persists with nightmares or seems unable to cope, however, it may be necessary to talk with a counselor.

WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP

Local shelters often hold workshops and support groups to help people after pet loss. Contact your local shelter for information. There are also a number of organizations dedicated to helping people cope around the country. To find one in your state, visit the Delta Society Web page at www.deltasociety.org/dsn701.htm

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PET LOSS

 

Angell Memorial Animal Hospital
General Practice & Preventative Medicine

COPING WITH LOSS

The loss of any close friend can be devastating, and pets can be among our closest companions. A pet frequently provides unconditional love, emotional security, and loyalty. Routine activities with an animal companion often provide structure, fun, relaxation, and social contact in our daily lives. The death of a cherished pet can mean the loss of an entire lifestyle as well as a devoted companion. Lack of understanding and support from people around us can make this period even more difficult.

BE PREPARED

In some instances the death of a pet can be anticipated; the animal may be very old or suffering from an extended illness. Other pet owners may face a sudden loss – the result of an accident or short-term illness. Things that will need to be considered with a gravely ill or seriously injured animal include the pet’s quality of life, emotional and financial cost, and when or if euthanasia should be considered. It is best to have contemplated these difficult matters beforehand.

ACCEPT AND EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS

It is important to understand that grief is a personal experience and there are no right or wrong ways to feel it. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge what you are feeling and somehow release it. Try writing your thoughts down in a journal. A good long cry can help, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to your friends or a counselor.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE

Seek out support. Well-meaning friends who don’t understand the bond between you and your pet may say, “He was only a dog.” Others may encourage you to “get another one,” as if your lifelong companion could be easily replaced. This can make expression of your pain even harder. It is important to realize that you are not alone. A support group can act as a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation.

DO WHAT YOU CAN TO EASE THE PAIN

Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Talk. Write. Many people find comfort in rituals, like paying their final respects with a brief service or setting up a small memorial with photos and objects that had significance in the pet’s life, such as a collar bowl, or toy. It’s important to set aside time to think about the good times and remember to pay extra attention to surviving pets. They may need consolation during this difficult period too.

SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS, SPECIAL CONCERNS

The death of a long-time companion can be particularly painful for those who shared a unique relationship with their pet. This includes anyone whose pet was the sole or primary companion, or who was either physically or emotionally dependent upon their pet. Children, the elderly, and handicapped pet owners often have unique bonds with companion animals and may need special attention and support when a pet dies.

Recognizing the tasks of grief can give you landmarks on the path to resolution, and help you recognize that your feelings are normal. The term "task" is used rather than "stage" to avoid giving the impression that grief is something marked by well-defined milestones. The mourner should not feel that he or she must follow some pre-set list, each lasting a determined period of time.

Remember that the grieving process for each individual is as unique as each lost relationship. There is no set pattern or time period for recovery, but there are some general patterns.

Denial. Most people will experience a period of denial, refusing to believe the pet is dying or has died. Denial is usually strongest when there is little time for acceptance, such as with an accident or short-term illness.

Bargaining. For pets facing imminent death, many people will try to make a deal with God, themselves, or even the pet, in a desperate attempt to deter fate.

Anger. In frustration, anger may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including friends, family, veterinarians, and even the pet owner himself.

Guilt. Guilt is probably the most common emotion resulting from the death of a companion animal. As the pet’s primary caretaker, all decisions regarding care are the owner’s responsibility. When a pet dies, the owner often feels guilty about actions taken or not taken, even about things that happened before the pet became ill. The most attentive caretaker may feel he or she should have somehow done more. But we all do our best with the information, knowledge, and resources available to us. It is important to try not to second-guess the decisions you made along the way, and to remember that you tried to act in your pet’s best interest.

Depression. Depression can indicate the start of acceptance. It is normal to withdraw and contemplate the meaning of the relationship in solitude. Deep and lasting despondency, however, requires professional help.

Acceptance. Now is the time to remember the good times. The daily reminders become a little less painful. You find you can now start to think about the future.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO CONSIDER ANOTHER PET?

A new pet is just that - a new pet. He or she can never replace the pet you lost. If you decide to get another pet, you will be entering into an entirely new and different relationship. Be sure that you are psychologically, physically, and financially ready and willing to commit the time and energy needed to care for a new companion, without resentment or unrealistic expectations.

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WHEN TO CONSIDER EUTHANASIA IN DOGS

 

General Practice & Preventative Medicine

A PET'S QUALITY OF LIFE

Many pets suffer with chronic diseases, such as cancer, that can often be managed in such a way that life is prolonged, although the quality of life is greatly diminished. For most pet owners this issue greatly influences the decision concerning euthanasia. Certainly, quality of life is a personal judgment; you know your animal companion better than anyone else. And while your veterinarian can guide you with objective information about diseases, and even provide a personal perspective of a disease condition, the final decision about euthanasia rests with you.

WHAT AILING PETS SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO

If you are considering euthanasia, here are some guidelines to help you decide whether your pet would benefit. Pets with chronic or incurable diseases that are given proper medication and care should be able to:

·  Eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath

·  Act interested in what’s going on around them

·  Do mild exercise

·  Have control of their urine and bowel movements - unless the disease affects one of these organ systems

<>·  Appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain
Of course, whenever there is a chronic condition, some days will be better than others and one should learn to expect the natural “ups and downs” that attend most chronic disease conditions. You must determine what balance is acceptable for your own situation. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the diagnosis or treatment of your pet's disease.

THE EFFECTS OF MEDICATION

<>If your pet is taking medication for a disease condition, ask your veterinarian if side effects of the medicine could be involved with any adverse symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea (but DON’T stop giving prescribed medication until you speak with your veterinarian). Sometimes it is the medicine, not the disease, that makes a pet appear more ill and adjusting the dose or changing the medicine can have a very positive effect.

THE HIGH COST OF CARE

<>Of course, some diseases are very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to treat. The medical bills that may accumulate can influence your decision regarding euthanasia. These are practical decisions that must be made relative to your own financial and family situations. Though a lack of financial or personal resources for medical care may be a source of guilt to you, it is better to discuss the overall situation with your veterinarian rather than allow your pet to suffer without proper veterinary medical care.

THE HARDEST DECISION

<>Euthanasia – often referred to as “putting a pet to sleep” or “putting an animal down” – literally means an “easy and painless death." It is the deliberate act of ending life, and pet owners that must make this decision often feel anxiety or even guilt.

Before the procedure is done, the pet owner will be asked to sign a paper that is an “authorization for euthanasia” or similar document. Euthanasia usually is performed by a veterinarian and is a humane and virtually painless procedure.

Most pet owners are given the following options for witnessing the procedure. They may be present with the pet during the euthanasia. They may wish to see their pet after euthanasia. Or they may want to say goodbye to their pet before the euthanasia and not see their pet after the procedure.

WILL IT HURT?

<>Note: The following is a description of a typical euthanasia. If you do not wish to read about this procedure, please close this document.

Euthanasia is very humane and virtually painless. First, you will be asked to sign a paper – an “authorization for euthanasia” (or similar document). Once you have decided upon your involvement n the euthanasia process, you will need to decide what you would like to have done with the remains. You can discuss your options with your veterinarian before the euthanasia procedure.

Euthanasia is usually performed by a veterinarian. The most typical procedure involves an intravenous injection of a barbiturate anesthetic given at a high concentration (overdose). In general, the euthanasia is rapid, usually within seconds, and very peaceful. Your pet will just go to sleep. On rare occasions there may be a brief vocalization or cry as consciousness is lost; this is not pain although you may misinterpreted it as such.

Within seconds of starting the injection the anesthetic overdose will cause the heart to slow and then stop, and any circulation in the body will cease. As the heart stops and the blood pressure decreases, the unconscious animal will stop breathing, circulation to the brain will cease and your pet will die peacefully.

Once your pet has died, you might observe involuntary muscle contractions or respiratory gasps about one or two minutes after the loss of consciousness and circulation. Again this is not evidence of pain or consciousness, but instead, it represents a physiologic response that occurs whenever the brain is deprived of circulation. The unconscious animal may also lose bladder or bowel control. Veterinarians often cover the pet immediately after injecting the euthanasia solution to partially shield the pet owner from these physiologic responses, which may still be disturbing.

AFTER THE GOODBYE

Before the euthanasia, discuss what you want done with the body with your veterinarian. Again, this is a matter of personal taste and preference.

·  Burial at home. Many people who own their homes chose to bury their pet in their yards. Great care must be given to bury your pet deep enough – at least three feet - to deter predators. It is recommended to wrap your pet in plastic and place several large rocks on top of their remains before covering with earth. Many cities have ordinances against home burial so check with your local officials before laying your pet to rest.

·  Cemeteries. Similar to human burial, a casket and headstone are selected. Services are available with or without viewing of the remains. Ask your veterinarian or check your local telephone directory to find a nearby pet cemetery.

·  Cremation. Typically, cremation is available in most large cities. Some crematories will privately cremate your pet so you can save the ashes for scattering, burial or storing in an urn. Check with your veterinarian about contacting an animal crematory center.

·  Other options. There are a few nontraditional choices available regarding the handling of pet remains. Some people choose to consult a taxidermist and others may be interested in cryogenics, which involves freezing the remains. Research and many telephone calls may be necessary to find sources for these options.

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EUTHANASIA IN DOGS

 

Dr. Debra Primovic
General Practice & Preventative Medicine

OVERVIEW

Euthanasia literally means an “easy and painless death.” You may know it as “putting a pet to sleep” or “putting an animal down.” It is the deliberate act of ending life and undoubtedly it is a difficult issue. Pet owners who must make this decision often feel anxiety or even guilt, but when a pet is very ill with little hope of recovery, the question of “When is it time?” becomes most important.

It’s a common situation: Many pets suffer with chronic diseases such as cancer that can often be managed in such a way that life is prolonged, although the quality of life is greatly diminished. For most pet owners this issue greatly influences the decision concerning euthanasia. Certainly, quality of life is a personal judgment; you know your animal companion better than anyone else. And while your veterinarian can guide you with objective information about diseases, and even provide a personal perspective of a disease condition, the final decision about euthanasia rests with you.

VETERINARY CARE

If you are considering euthanasia, some of the following points may help you gauge your pet's quality of life.

·  Pets with chronic or incurable diseases that are given proper medication and care should be able to eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath.

·  Your pet should act interested in “what’s going on” around him, be able to perform mild exercise and have control of his urine and bowel movements (unless the principal disease affects one of these organ systems).

·  Even your ill pet should appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain. Of course, whenever there is a chronic condition, some days will be better than others and one should learn to expect the natural “ups and downs” that attend most chronic disease conditions. You need to determine what balance is acceptable.
There are also veterinary issues and medical care issues that may influence your judgment. If your pet is taking medication for a disease condition, ask your veterinarian if side effects of the medicine could be involved with any adverse symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea (but DON’T stop giving prescribed medication until you speak with your veterinarian). Sometimes it is the medicine, not the disease, that makes a pet appear more ill and adjusting the dose or changing the medicine can have a very positive effect.

Of course, some diseases are very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to treat. The medical bills that may accumulate can influence your decision regarding euthanasia. These are practical decisions that must be made relative to your own financial and family situations. Though a lack of financial or personal resources for medical care may be a source of guilt to you, it is better to discuss the overall situation with your veterinarian rather than allow your pet to suffer without proper veterinary medical care.

WILL IT HURT?

The following is a description of a typical euthanasia procedure. If you do not wish to read about this procedure, please close this document now.

Euthanasia is very humane and virtually painless. First, you will likely be asked to sign a paper – an “authorization for euthanasia” (or similar document). If you decide to go ahead you will be given a number of options: you may be present (with the pet) during the euthanasia; you may be absent for the procedure but wish to see your pet after euthanasia; or you may want to say goodbye to your pet prior to euthanasia and not see him again. Once you have decided upon your involvement in the euthanasia process, you will need to decide what you would like to have done with the remains. You can discuss your options with your veterinarian before the euthanasia procedure.

Euthanasia is usually performed by a veterinarian. The most typical procedure involves an intravenous injection of a barbiturate anesthetic given at a high concentration (overdose). In general, the euthanasia is rapid, usually within seconds, and very peaceful. Your pet will just go to sleep. On rare occasions there may be a brief vocalization or cry as consciousness is lost; this is not pain although you may misinterpreted it as such.

Within seconds of starting the injection the anesthetic overdose will cause the heart to slow and then stop, and any circulation in the body will cease. As the heart stops and the blood pressure decreases, the unconscious animal will stop breathing, circulation to the brain will cease and your pet will die peacefully.

Once your pet has died, you might observe involuntary muscle contractions or respiratory gasps about one or two minutes after the loss of consciousness and circulation. Again this is not evidence of pain or consciousness, but instead, it represents a physiologic response that occurs whenever the brain is deprived of circulation. The unconscious animal may also lose bladder or bowel control. Veterinarians often cover the pet immediately after injecting the euthanasia solution to partially shield the pet owner from these physiologic responses, which may still be disturbing.

HOME CARE

Keep your pet as comfortable as possible during any chronic illness or disease. Encourage him to eat and drink, unless your veterinarian has asked you not to do so, and keep him clean and dry. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the diagnosis or treatment of your pet's disease.

Pet loss by natural causes, trauma or euthanasia is always difficult, and there are pet loss support groups available throughout the country. If you have specific questions about euthanasia or you would like more information about pet loss support groups, please contact your veterinarian.

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