Knowing When it's Time

May 25, 2020   Tracey Aston   Pet Loss

“The only time a pet has broken my heart is when they had to leave.”  It's a common saying but it holds so much truth. The hardest decision any pet parent will ever have to make is knowing when it's time.  Yes, that time. The time to consider the decision that every pet parent dreads.  The honest answer to that question will depend on your pet, your pet's quality of life and your pet's prognosis after speaking with a veterinarian.

Many veterinarians and hospice care workers will explain the quality of life chart which takes several factors into consideration, such as mobility, nutrition, hydration, elimination, hygiene and activity/interaction level and pain. These are all important factors to consider for a pet's quality of life, however, all pet parents know it's never as easy as looking at a chart.

Pets are now living longer than ever thanks to breakthroughs in technology, mobility aids and personal care products.  Years ago a pet with severe mobility issues had little chance of living a quality life, but today there are options from slings, to wheelchairs to prosthesis.  Pets with paralysis, or degenerative disease or just age would have issues with incontinence, leading to poor hygiene for themselves and messes for their pet parents. Today there are many kinds of incontinence products including wraps, belly bands for males, disposable and washable diapers.  Pets adjust to these devices, and even in extreme situations, amputations, with little difficultly. Only you will know if your pet will be happy with using any of the above products and if it will bring them a better quality of life. It also depends on what a pet parent is willing to do, or can do for their pet.

I've been writing for this blog for close to two years and rarely will I bring personal matters into my writings, however, for this situation, please allow me to share with you. In July of 2007, I brought home a wild, rambunctious, inquisitive, intelligent 10 week old German Shepherd puppy. If you're doing that math that means my best friend will be 13 years old in May of this year. We have gone through many changes together and our relationship has grown and adapted in many ways. Gone are the days of running full speed down trails and splashing in the pool, but it has been replaced by naps in front of the TV, cuddle time and more time to relax and simply enjoy each other's company. In 2015 he was diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia and in 2019 his veterinarian let me know he was showing signs of DM or degenerative myelopathy. In the year since his diagnosis, he has lost the use of his back legs and can't walk unassisted.  We started out with harnesses and slings and moved onto a wheelchair, which he can no longer use due to his inability to pull the weight of both himself and the chair behind him. I've spoken to his veterinarian, and DM, while devastating, isn't painful. He is still happy, engaged, eats and drinks and loves to cuddle.

Every day, I carry him into our yard and sit him down in the grass to enjoy the fresh air and birds and he loves it! Why am I mentioning this? Because recently a neighbor felt the need to tell me I was being selfish by forcing him to go outside and up and down the ramp. If we give the neighbor the benefit of the doubt, we can say they thought they were doing the right thing. However, I know my dog. We are going on 13 years as a team. I know how he feels by the look in his eyes and I know when he is having bad days and we adjust accordingly. No one else is going to be able to tell you what is best for your dog nor should you allow them.  Family, friends and neighbors may try to offer helpful advice because they don't understand the love and level of commitment we have to our pets.  Don't allow them to let you start second guessing yourself and if you're doing the right thing for your pet.

After speaking with my veterinarian, I meticulously researched the disease and found that depending on the pet, the disease progression can take anywhere from 1 -3 years. All pets are individuals and vary slightly but it's always important to research the stages and progression of the diagnosis. When your pet is diagnosed with a condition or disease, it can seem overwhelming but it does not always mean a death sentence for your pet.

Now, I'm in no way telling anyone to ever ignore a veterinarian's advice or to allow their pet to suffer.  What am I saying is, no list or chart is going to be able to make this decision for you. A well-meaning friend isn't going to know your pet the way you do. Work with your veterinarian, research your pet's illness, and decide what you can honestly do physically, emotionally and financially. If you have the means for assistive devices and think your pet can still thrive, go for it! If you don't mind a few messes or changing diapers and your pet is otherwise healthy, wonderful! If you are physically able to lift a disabled pet who is still eating and drinking and you want to do so, there are options to help you. Charts and lists are guidelines, only you know what you're willing to do, your pet's comfort level and quality of life.

Love, commitment, patience, persistence and dedication can get you through difficult times and you will know you have done all you can to give both you and your pet the best life. 

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