Our pets bring us immense joy, purpose, unconditional love and a bond that can only be compared to how we love our children. Our pets are our children in a sense, the love is the same. Unfortunately, we know that we will be faced with the end of their lives. Even though we know to expect this, their passing is always staggering and extremely painful. The feelings of loss and grief are the same as when we lose a human family member, and oftentimes it’s worse.
While our team here at Annie’s Healing Hearts aren’t medical professionals, we can use our own experiences to aid and hopefully help ease feelings of uncertainty and fear associated with having to prepare for and saying “goodbye”.
I personally have experience working in the veterinary field and trust me when I say we feel your loss, we feel your pain and we are here for you. I’ve been honored many times to be involved with euthanasia appointments. I have cried with you countless times and I’ve gone home and paid tribute with more tears for your family’s loss. I’ve watched pets grow old and they became my sweet friends year after year for vet appointments. Even in this field of pet cremation we receive you and your families and feel the pain of your lost fur babies.
So, how do we really know when it’s time to make the choice for them to leave this earth? Do you choose euthanasia, or palliative care and let them pass at home? Some people exclaim “they will tell you” and that you will just “know”. Likely true because they can communicate with us in a special way that is unique to the connection we have with them.
What if you don’t experience that gut feeling that people describe?
Make an Appointment with Your Veterinarian.
Every body and situation is unique. If you are seeing signs of illness, a consultation with your veterinarian is the first step. If your pet is elderly or terminally ill, the Vet will ask you a series of questions regarding the quality of your pet’s life. If you see that your pet is breathing differently, has changes in appetite, thirst, weight, or has changes in mobility, your pet needs to be evaluated.
Determining Quality of Life for Your Pet
Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinary oncologist, founded a pet hospice service called Pawspice and has been advocating end-of-life-care for terminally ill pets for two decades. In the early 2000’s she created the Quality of Life (QoL) Scale, based on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare in the United Kingdom, to help veterinarians and families gauge a pet’s life quality and help pet parents look at, and begin to prepare for difficult future choices.
The following information is from the website www.pawspice.com.
Quality of Life Scale (The HHHHHMM Scale) Pet caregivers can use this Quality of Life Scale to determine the success of Pawspice care. Score patients using a scale of: 0 to 10 (10 being ideal).
0-10 HURT – Adequate pain control & breathing ability is of top concern. Trouble breathing outweighs all concerns. Is the pet’s pain well managed? Can the pet breathe properly? Is oxygen supplementation necessary?
0-10 HUNGER – Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the pet need a feeding tube?
0-10 HYDRATION – Is the pet dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough water, use subcutaneous fluids daily or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.
0-10 HYGIENE – The pet should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after eliminations. Avoid pressure sores with soft bedding and keep all wounds clean.
0-10 HAPPINESS – Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to family, toys, etc.? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be moved to be close to family activities?
0-10 MOBILITY – Can the pet get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk? Is the pet having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, but an animal with limited mobility yet still alert, happy and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping their pet.)
0-10 MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD – When bad days outnumber 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 that the end is near. The decision for euthanasia needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly at home, that is okay.
*TOTAL* A total over 35 points represents acceptable life quality to continue with pet hospice (Pawspice).
(Original concept, Oncology Outlook, by Dr. Alice Villalobos, Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN, 09/2004; scale format created for author’s book, Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Revised for the International Veterinary Association of Pain Management (IVAPM) 2011 Palliative Care and Hospice Guidelines. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alice Villalobos & Wiley-Blackwell. QoL Scale Introduction/Summary Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, a renowned veterinary oncologist, introduced “Pawspice”, a quality of life program for terminally ill pets. Pawspice starts at diagnosis and includes symptom management, gentle standard care and transitions into hospice as the pet nears death. Dr. Villalobos developed a scoring system to help family members and veterinary teams assess a pet’s life quality, The HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale. The five H’s stand for: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene and Happiness. The two M’s stand for Mobility and More good days than bad. The QoL scale is also a helpful decision making tool to assist pet lovers in the difficult process of making the final call for the gift of euthanasia to provide a peaceful and painless passing for their beloved pet. Available for download at www.pawspice.com. QoL Scale Caption Original concept, Oncology Outlook, by Dr. Alice Villalobos, Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN, 09/2004; scale format created for author’s book, Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the HumanAnimal Bond, Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Revised for International Veterinary Association of Pain Management (IVAPM) 2011 Hospice Statement. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alice Villalobos & Wiley-Blackwell.)
Your Pet’s Last Day
Gather your family and those closest to you and your pet. You will have a choice, depending on the situation, to ask the Doctor to come to your home for the Euthanasia.
Some clinics have a special room for the purpose of expressing the last farewell, so your time isn’t rushed during the appointment. It is highly encouraged that pet parents be present during the euthanasia.
What to expect during Euthanasia
Ask your veterinarian what their protocol is first, so you know what to expect during their process. After you, your family, and the Veterinarian has made the choice to euthanize, the vet staff is likely to place an intravenous catheter in the foreleg of your pet. Topical pain medication can be requested before placement of the IV, however from my experience the doctor never wants your pet to feel or experience any pain and most have this in place as a standard. The Veterinarian will then administer a sedative to make your pet feel safe, comfortable, and sleepy. Feel free to hold them, tell them how good they are and what they joy they have brought to your life. Your pet will fall into a deep sleep from the sedative. Once asleep, your veterinarian will then give the drug that will stop all body functions and within moments they quietly and peacefully pass away.
After Care: Home Burial
Typically, before the last appointment you will be asked how you would like to take care of your pet’s body after they have passed away. You have options to consider. If you live in a location for where you can bury your pet’s body at home, you will take your pet with you from the veterinary office. Many suburban or metropolitan areas will not permit you to bury your pet in your yard. So, if this is your preference make sure to check local ordinances.
After Care: Cremation
Private Cremation: Your pet is placed in the cremation chamber alone. Their cremains will be returned to you. Here at Annie’s Healing Hearts, we take immense pride with all our private cremations and have protocols in place to ensure that you are receiving only your pet’s cremains.
For further information please visit the link below. Or, feel free to call us with any questions you have, we are here to help.
Communal Cremation: Your pet is placed in the cremation chamber along with other pets and you will not receive their cremains.
For Veterinary resources, please visit our Partnering Vets page.
If you don’t see your veterinarian on the list and you would like to use our services, tell your vet your preference and we will arrange to go to their clinic to retrieve your pet, or to your home if you have opted for a Home Euthanasia.
You may also schedule an appointment to bring your pet to our office. Don’t hesitate to contact us with your needs.