Tag: pet loss

How old is your pet really…?

Bilbo the terrier defies life expectancy at 17

So much happens in our lives over the short period that our pets live with us. They are witnesses to it all; just having them there can be a great support. So, it’s lovely to support them as they age or need more help.

This blog is about the ins and outs of that time–planning ahead and having the right tools and facts to hand. “The path of least regret” can be a helpful idea.

dog walker tramps through boggy groundThat path is different for every case and, as we chart it, we need solid ground underfoot–honest facts to steady us in a sea of uncertainty. Otherwise we end up leaping desperately from boggy spot to boggy spot — making frantic guesses or being too upset to decide. Then, later, we can feel we were forced into things or made the wrong call. It happens…

The next few posts will try to indicate some “patches of solid ground”, starting with age.

We used to think that 1 year of life for a cat or dog was roughly the same as 7 years of human life. The calculation can seem correct, on paper. Unfortunately it’s not that simple, for two reasons. (Both reasons probably apply to cats. We don’t have as much research on their life expectancy as we do on dogs–it’s hard to keep track of nine lives…)

1. A pet’s age on the calendar says relatively little about their body’s actual, “biological” age.
  • The biological age depends on things like genetics, health and fitness.
  • Some giant breeds of dog typically live for ~8 years, whereas many small dogs and mixed-breeds typically live to 13 years or older.
  • Larger dogs that stay trim can live longer than small dogs that get overweight.
  • Some breeds have inbuilt problems that tend to make their lives quite short… For example, the VetCompass data show that, on average: Chihuahuas live for ~7 years whereas Miniature Poodles live for ~ 14 years. However, even life expectancy data are general; they are not a prediction. For example: based on the data, dogs like our cover star Bilbo typically live for 13-14 years. But he is a wonderful 17 year-old!
2. The relationship between human age and dog age is not constant over the dog’s life span.
  • It gets more complex as dogs get older, and it depends on the dog’s breed, body fat and health.

Life expectancy - an older ginger cat sits on bed with ownerJust in case: comparing pet and human ages may worry some younger children (~6 to ~10 years old) because they only understand death gradually. If you say that a pet is as old as grandpa or Ms Smith over the road, and the pet dies, some children may worry that older people (parents, grandparents) are just about to die too.

Bottom line? It’s fun to compare our pet’s age with ours. Does your cat or dog deserve a birthday telegram from the Queen?! However, the comparison is not a great basis for making plans and decisions. Better to use the typical life expectancy of different breeds. The VetCompass project gathers those data continuously, and your vet can advise you.

Our next post will look at solid ground for gauging older pets’ quality of life, including pain.

Caroline Hewson Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS

Caroline is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind.

Bilbo terrier ppctMeet superstar senior ‘Bilbo’.

Our cover star was adopted by proud owner Jilly from Birmingham Dogs’ Home and is going to be 18 years young in November. Read more>

We’re looking for our next cover star!

Is your pet a superstar senior? Post a photo on our Facebook and/or Instagram pages for a chance to feature in future blogs.

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

If you are facing the loss of a pet, or are recently bereaved, you may find our Bereavement page useful.

Feeling guilty about euthanasia? Time for some self-compassion.

feeling guilt about euthanasia pet loss blog

To `live in the moment’ is all very well. Our pets seem to live that way and we tell ourselves to follow their example. However, the present moment is often a mixed bag…

As well as holding simple everyday pleasures, there can be sorrows and difficulties. Two examples are caregiver burden and feelings of guilt.

mans hands stroking golden labrador

Caregiver burden

When a pet is very frail or at an advanced stage of illness, it can sometimes be hard to manage all the care they need. There can be a lot to do–from lifting a heavy, infirm dog to keeping elderly cats `regular’, and with various cleaning tasks and food prep. The practicalities can be made more difficult if we are also caring for human dependents. The emerging field of animal hospice focuses very much on workable solutions to at-home caregiving of seriously ill or frail pets.

When you are agreeing a care plan with your vet, it’s worth going over exactly what’s’ involved. In my experience, veterinary nurses are a top resource for tips and advice about hands-on, daily care. Don’t hesitate to ask to chat with one of them if you anticipate or come across difficulties. Often, simple adjustments will make all the difference.

Other times, it may be wiser to plan for your pet’s euthanasia. Taking time to say goodbye and letting them go when they are nearing the end of their lives is better than neglecting their care. For, again: unlike us, our pets live in the present. They cannot make mental trade-offs or choose to put up with suffering for the greater good of the household. So, if a pet’s present consists of declining health and few or no pleasures and comfort, he or she almost certainly does not have `a life worth living’.

Feelings of guilt about euthanasia

Whatever the situation, many bereaved owners say they feel vaguely or very guilty about having had their pet euthanased. Possibly, a part of that could be to do with how the decision was made. Pets are family members and expecting someone to decide about their pet’s euthanasia alone seems unfair. The ABC decision tool may help resolve that.

Wording seems important too, for guilt is different from yearning (“I miss my pet so much”), regret (“If only things had been different”) and self-doubt (“Did I do enough for her?”). With guilt, there is self-blame (“I ought to have done things differently” “I shouldn’t feel like this.”)
Self-blame is rarely fair. Sometimes, yes, we may have neglected a pet’s needs or chosen to ignore that they cannot cope with life any longer. That happens, sadly, though it is not deliberate.

older tabby catMore often, self-blame is likely to be unreasonable. For we would never typically judge other people so unkindly, yet we may set unrealistic standards for ourselves. Also, memory is notoriously unreliable—more a reconstruction than a playback. So, our memory of the exact circumstances of a euthanasia decision may be inaccurate or very biased against ourselves.

Kindly logic (“It’s not your fault” “Hindsight is 20:20”) may be correct, but it is not always helpful. Making fruitful sense of things often requires more, and it deserves the time that may take. At our disposal are:

  • Self-compassion: This lovely and humbling Buddhist tenet reminds us that we are not on our own. Feeling guilty and sad is painful, and people everywhere struggle with it. We travel in company and can learn from our respective, difficult experiences. (The website selfcompassion.org has useful information.)
  • Confidential support groups and helplines—run by properly trained facilitators. To share our story with people who understand and won’t judge or “fix” us is part of the reality that we are never as alone as our exhausted minds may, sometimes, say we are.
  • When guilt or grief feel beyond our ability to manage and resolve, it can help to talk to a professionally qualified counsellor. They have the training and insight to help us make peace with ourselves.

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

If you are facing the loss of a pet, or are recently bereaved, you may find this resource useful.

We would love to hear from you on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram.

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Who decides that a pet is better off dead than alive? And how do they decide?

elderly man hugs his cat

Euthanasia is irreversible so it seems right that most pet owners agonise over the decision and want to double-check before making it. Unfortunately, anyone deciding on their own can get the timing very wrong…

An informed decision about a pet’s euthanasia (“put to sleep”) takes input from owner and vet. That’s because each of them is an expert on a different aspect of the pet’s wellbeing. So, my answer to “Who decides?” is: normally, the owner and vet should share the decision.

Unlike your vet, you are expert on your pet’s preferences, fears and everything that makes life worth living for him or her. No vet can know this like you do. Instead, your vet is expert in clinical theory and in how that applies to each pet in the pet’s unique context. Even a lifetime of ownership will not give you that, nor can the internet.

How do you and your vet decide?

A simple decision aid is The ABC Yardstick, which vet and owner work through in alphabetical order. But decisions are not simply a matter of ABC or logic or “being sensible”. For most of us, pets are family. We love them dearly and we feel the weight of our decisions and losses very deeply. The next post will look at some of that, such as caregiver burden and guilt.

vet examines white and brown rabbit euthanasia

Later posts will say more about the ABC Yardstick too. Briefly, for now:

A stands for Agony or `Awfulness’

  • Vets are expert in whether a pet is either already suffering or at high risk of starting to suffer very soon.
  • Suffering isn’t only pain; it can involve things like breathlessness and extreme weakness.

B stands for Burden of Treatment (on the pet)

(See next post for the important question of caregiver burden and costs)

  • Vets know what different care options involve, and how likely each option is to help a given pet.
  • Owners know what their pets can cope with. For example, some animals hate anything to do with vets and even the simplest treatments.
  • Veterinary nurses know a lot about their patients too: if a pet has been hospitalised in the past, the nurses usually know how the pet coped with that.

C stands for the pet’s Capacity to Enjoy Life

  • Owners are expert in what gives their pets pleasure.
  • Vets know the likelihood that the preferred care option could restore the pet to that point.

dog looks at owner euthanasia

Putting those together: normally, euthanasia is a good decision for a pet if:

  • A. They are already suffering or are at high risk of suffering very soon, and
  • B. Treatment is either not available or would be burdensome to the pet, and /or
  • C. Treatment has little or no chance of making the pet well enough to enjoy life (–`the life worth living’, from his point of view)

Often, a period of thorough palliative care can keep pets very comfortable and give their owners time to say goodbye. In many cases too, a complete veterinary palliative approach can keep the pets comfortable enough to enjoy life for some while, and isn’t burdensome. This `animal hospice’ is just starting to develop in veterinary practice. More about that in a separate post.

Back to you meanwhile. What is your experience? Do we humans sometimes tend to chase life for our pets at any cost and not think enough about the burdens on pets, and on ourselves? How can we be `kind yet resolute and not foolish’? Share your thoughts and stories on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram.

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

If you are facing the loss of a pet companion, or are recently bereaved, you may find this resource useful.

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Can we really sense our pets’ needs?

golden retriever nose

The Chinese sage Lao Tzu said the wisest people are present to whatever the moment brings.

Our animal companions seem to “live in the moment” naturally. For example, when we sit down to rest on a sunny day with our dog or horse – or, sometimes, our cat – we may all have our eyes half-closed. But if you sneak a glance at your dog, his or her nostrils are often all a-quiver and his ears too.

Dogs’ ears are one indicator of their mood and can move independent of each other. Cats’ ears can also move independently: often when a cat seems to be snoozing you’ll see an ear rotate like a funnel, to catch some sound that we may not hear ourselves. It’s fun to watch! Horses’ ears are like that too. And, of course, mules’ and donkeys’…

mule listening with head cockedMost people find that being relaxed but attentive is pleasurable. Our pets also seem to enjoy being in this state. Down the road, their ability to enjoy the world around them may help us recognise whether they still have `a life worth living’.

Making that judgment for someone else is a huge responsibility that we can easily get wrong. (It’s why doctors and lawyers encourage each of us to make our own advanced care plans and appoint a Power of Attorney. If we don’t, we may find ourselves stuck with care that others think we want but we do not, and we won’t be able to tell them…)

We all want to do the right thing for our pets

We all want to do the right thing for our pets and we use terms like quality of life, best interests, suffering. They are important and useful ideas. They can also mean different things to different people. Also, the best of us can be biased or blinded by our other work or ideas. The animal welfare scholar and ethicist Professor Bernard Rollin described his regrets when he realised he had not noticed the first signs that his beloved dog had reached a point of no return.

Having “blind spots” and biases are potential pitfalls of our quick-thinking, human brains. But our brains can be such a help too. We can ponder our pets’ final days well before times of necessary decisions arrive. We can work out what to watch out for, and how to double-check. We can see how we feel about different general care-plans. We can question our assumptions. Always, we can exercise compassion for ourselves—and for our critters.

The next few posts will suggest some things to ponder, starting with the questions: Who decides about our pets’ life and death, and how?

Over to you. We can’t advise on individual cases, but we’d like to hear from you on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram.

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

If you are facing the loss of a pet companion, or are recently bereaved, you may find this resource useful.

Memorialising our pets: how poems can help us mourn and remember

remembering a beloved pet - the poetry of mary oliver

Poetry – our own or others’, it doesn’t matter – is such a powerful way to express anguish and to mourn and remember the dead.

In the last post, I said we’d come back to the poet Mary Oliver. Afterwards, I remembered that she was a dog-lover. Here at the Trust website, we don’t intend to leave cats and other critters out of the mix! And we won’t. But Oliver was also an outstanding poet who wrote honestly and hopefully about the natural world and everything and everyone in it. If you’re interested, try her Wild Geese which she reads here

A ready-made family in Nature

Her point that we have a ready-made family in Nature makes such sense to me when it comes to our pets. The dear old black dog up the road was a prime example. He was such a joyful, welcoming soul. If he saw you on a walk, he’d come lolloping over stiffly from afar, with a windmilling tail. I just learned that he died recently. He had lived 12 years and had a fine dog’s life. I shall miss his happy presence, as his people surely do.

It turns out that a retired scholar writes memorials in Latin for deceased pets and gives the translations. Things like:

  • Weep for my misfortune all dog lovers, Russell has died, the darling of our home […]

And

  • […] Be happy among the shades, you well-loved cat […]

How’s that for flowery language – and why not? Immense loss sometimes calls for nothing less.

Heart-rending honesty and beauty

Other poets express their love of animals and sense of loss differently, but with heart-rending honesty and beauty. This poem by Gavin Ewart about his own cat says it all. And elsewhere on the Trust site, you may have seen the poem about a dog called Major written by his  grieving owner. You can read his tribute here.

The Rainbow Bridge piece is another winner and well-known to most of us. And, Mary Oliver also expressed her feelings about her dogs. Her collection Dog Songs says lots of lovely things. In The First Time Percy Came Back, she ponders the mystery of death, in a dream she had about a beloved dog, now dead. Here she is, reading it.

But, back to you…

These days of coronavirus are such strange and sad times for us humans. The demands of lockdown make the pains of any bereavement all the harsher.

To contain our grief for our pets out of respect for those bereaved by Covid-19 – and for the frontline workers who have died from it – shows great solidarity and generosity of heart. That does not make it easy. It is not, especially if we don’t have the space or privacy we need to express our own grief.

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

If you are coping with the loss of your dog, cat or any animal companion, the Trust’s Bereavement pages are here to support you. And, if you have a poem or epitaph for a pet that you would like to share, don’t hesitate to post it on our Facebook page.

How to reduce the risk of your dog developing an aggression problem

jack russell dog barking aggression

If a dog has bitten someone, euthanasia ensures s/he is no longer a risk. However, it is often an untimely death and a heartbreaking situation.

Some aggressive dogs may never adapt happily to life, and euthanasia may be a kindness for them and a sadly necessary safety precaution. However, aggression can have different causes, and euthanasia is not necessarily the best or only solution for all aggressive dogs.

An expert assessment will help you decide what’s best for your dog

Each case of aggression is different and, like with any decision about what’s best for your dog and for you, you need full information first. woman trains retriever dog That means getting an assessment by a qualified and accredited expert right away. This page from the RSPCA gives details and links for finding accredited behaviourists.

3 tips for reducing the risk of your dog developing an aggression problem

#1: Know the Ladder of Aggression and teach it to your children.

The Ladder is a simple guide that shows if your dog may be getting worked up, and how s/he shows it. Snapping and biting are typically a last resort for dogs; but they may reach that point in seconds. If you’ve ignored or misread earlier signs, the bite may seem out of the blue. For simple illustrations and more information:

#2: Notice your dog’s behaviours around people or other dogs.

If s/he seems to be showing similar behaviours to the Ladder of Aggression, video them if you can do that safely. And make an appointment with your vet to get your dog checked over. The vet can rule out physical causes of aggression, and advise you. If your dog has bitten, use Dr Yin’s poster to help you gauge the level.

vet examines white dog

#3: Ask your vet for a referral, if necessary

Some vets have greater knowledge and interest in canine aggression than others.Otherwise, they should be able to refer you to a qualified and accredited behaviourist. The two accrediting bodies are: The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, and The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Details on this page from the RSPCA.

dog chasing ballWhen our dogs threaten or bite us, it is a form of communication. Typically, many will have given us other warnings, but we can easily overlook or misinterpret those. Let’s learn their lingo better and get qualified help sooner than later. But always stay safe.

To borrow from the poet Mary Oliver, we need to be kind yet resolute, not foolish. More on her next time.

Over to you. We can’t advise on individual cases, but we’d like to hear from you on our Facebook page.
What is your experience of aggressive dogs?
What do you make of the graphics and websites we’ve listed here?

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

An aggressive dog is an unhappy dog

aggressive dog snarling

From growling thru’ snapping to a single bite or an all-out attack, aggression is a serious matter.

frightened aggressive dog snarling

An aggressive dog poses a danger to us and other humans. It tells us the dog is unhappy. Even in a mild form or in a small dog, aggression typically signals the dog is tense and not enjoying his life at that moment – or, sometimes, not at all.

Get expert assessment about a dog’s aggression early on

Having `a life worth living’ and a good life are important for all of us animals. It not just about externals like square meals and exercise. It’s also to do with things like feeling secure and having opportunities to be freely yourself. So, getting expert assessment about a dog’s aggression early on makes kind and practical sense all round. This blog offers no specific advice but just some general thoughts.

Advertising rarely shows the challenging aspects of pet ownership

It’s not clear how many dogs are generally aggressive. We do know that some of them are euthanased or handed over to shelters, especially larger breeds.

spaniel running with toy in mouth

Understandably, advertising never shows these challenging aspects of pet ownership. Instead, there are harmonious, happy scenes. So it’s not surprising if non-owners or new owners think an  aggressive dog is abnormal or their owners are failures. I’d say, in general: Not so. It’s the images in ads that are unrealistic.

Bossing dogs about will make them more afraid

There used to be a lot of talk about dominance aggression and “showing dogs who is Boss”. We now know that is incorrect. Regardless of size, many dogs are stressed when they cannot predict and cannot control what will happen next. Their stress can show as aggression.

woman kissing king charles spaniel`Bossing’ them about and overwhelming them physically will make them more afraid. They will either be more likely to bite or they will become completely inhibited due to extreme fear. Either way, they will not be “sorted”.

Small dogs can find our attentions unpredictable

We may also make things worse for small dogs if we suddenly snatch them up to give them cuddles etc. They don’t understand we do it to express our love. For them, it probably feels like another thing they can’t predict and can’t control.

Some dogs may show predatory aggression, if the situation triggers them. Then, they are probably back in touch with the ancient and natural instinct to chase down a potential meal.

Rough play and inhibited bites—which is how playful young wild animals learn about who not to hurt, and how to catch prey—may also tip over into potentially serious attacks. This brief news clip seems to show some of that. It also shows how cats can save the day!

Aggressive behaviours like that are dangerous to us and we rightly cannot allow them. Yet the behaviours are entirely natural for the dogs.

An aggressive dog may actually be unwell

sad dog lies on sofaAnother cause of aggression can be underlying disease, especially painful conditions. Diagnose and manage the medical condition, and the aggression goes.

The list goes on. But, so much for theory. When a dog is aggressive, it can be a very difficult situation.

We’ll come back to this in the next post.

Over to you. We can’t advise on individual cases, but we’d like to hear from you on Facebook.
Has your cat ever seen off a threatening dog, like the cat in the video?
What do you think of marketing images about pet ownership?

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

Do you have a sick pet and are facing difficult decisions? Our Pet Bereavement page has  a list of helpline numbers and links to useful websites. You can also read pet owners’ personal bereavement stories.

Pets aren’t people and we need to care for them appropriately

girl hugs beagle pets

News and views about pets are mainstream. The BBC website has lots of thought-provoking bits and pieces.

Recently, I’ve come across these joyful video clips of animal friendships:

A magpie and whippet in Yorkshire
A lop-eared rabbit and some lambs in Wales
A very shy little boy and a ram
Dogs, people and chimpanzees

We are certainly not the only social species of animal. (If a rabbit can get along with us, why not with some fellow grass-eaters?) And, although we tend to forget it, we too are animals. We just have a more complex forebrain than the nonhuman animals we share our homes with.

‘Every animal is perfect in its kind’

Our good ol’ brains are, in many ways, our privilege and our burden. William Youatt, a co-founder of the UK veterinary profession, put it well in 1839:

monkey inspects dogs ear“Every animal—the horse, the dog, the ox, the sheep, the wasp and the bee– is perfect in its kind; and there are certain faculties belonging to each of them which would laugh our boasted intellect to scorn.”

Fortunately, our typical nonhuman friends lack the brain circuitry needed to think or speak scornfully. Otherwise, their List Of Scorn could be long – and accurate. For example, our pets might laugh about how we don’t hear or smell when there’s a mouse in the house, and we can be so horrified when—finally…!—we see the evidence.

But, hey… no species can do all possible things. And, every species is different in some way. Otherwise, it wouldn’t survive. The same is true of the many basic similarities between species. So, no surprise that we are quite like the other animals we live with.

Like them, we get many of the same diseases and we can suffer hugely from things like breathlessness, pain, anxiety, fear and loneliness. Also like our pets, we can enjoy life intensely—if our circumstances line up with our individual pleasures and preferences. We can all remember useful stuff too—the memories give us some idea of what to do or to expect in the future.

japanese girl solving jigsaw puzzleDogs are not the same as little children

And yet…despite all these similarities, we are undeniably different from our pets. We are each our own unique selves, as are each of our animal companions. And, although some dogs can solve some of the same simple puzzles that young children can, we adults can solve those puzzles, too. Clearly, it does not make adults little kids or little kids, non-furry dogs. It is not correct that dogs are the same as little children.

In our human society, we are still learning to respect our immense diversity. Instead of imposing our preferences, we are starting to tailor our healthcare and social care to each user’s needs and values. Because everyone deserves respect, and when we are sick or in need, we are vulnerable.

That may not be a bad way to approach our pets’ treatment and care, too. These valued friends – family members  – also depend on us for everything. And, they cannot speak. So, they are always vulnerable. Sure they are adaptable. But they need us to respect them and care for them as they are—and not as our brains may sometimes pretend they are.

William Youatt sums it up:

“Each [animal] is perfect in the station in which he is placed […] he has a claim on our kindness and deserves not ill-usage.”

Over to you. We can’t offer personal guidance or support, but we’d like to hear from you on facebook and instagram.
• What’s the most unusual animal friendship you’ve come across? Do share a photo or a video clip.
• Since pets are family members, maybe we should treat them like children. What do you think?

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

Do you have a sick pet and are facing difficult decisions? Our Pet Bereavement page has a list of helpline numbers and links to useful websites. You can also read pet owners’ personal bereavement stories.

Making decisions when our older pets become ill or infirm

sad labrador pet loss

The Royal Veterinary College in London has a massive and growing database. It’s part of the VetCompass project, which looks at the lifespans and illnesses of pets.

Sure enough, our pets typically live long but tend to get chronic illnesses. That’s true of us, too. And, rather like some families, some breeds of pet tend to have longer lifespans than others.

Resources like VetCompass supply many interesting facts. However, they make no guarantees for individuals. The weather forecast is the same.

As I write this, the BBC Weather app shows the probability of sleet right now is 99%. Rereading this post 45 minutes later, the probability is 97%. But so far the day has been dry and mild, and the sky looks as if it could stay that way.woman with umbrella

Uncertainty about a sick pet can be very worrying

The unavoidable uncertainty with the weather doesn’t normally matter too much or bother us. But, when a pet is very sick or is ageing, uncertainty about what to expect when, or what to do for the best, can be very difficult and worrying. It is a burden according to most dictionary definitions.

With everyday physical burdens—like buckets of stones and earth from the garden, or boxes of jumbled “stuff” up in the attic—we manage best if we can balance them.

To do that, we have to find our centre of gravity. Sometimes, we have to stop and rearrange the contents of our load. We may need to accept some guidance—and ignore other suggestions. Otherwise, we might trip up and that could be disastrous.

Perhaps, facing major decisions for a very frail or injured or sick pet can be a bit like that. Each relationship is unique and the decisions involve more than cool facts and logic, or a rush of emotion. Decision-making touches on our values and on the many responsibilities that may also be burdening us.

A sick pet can make us confront our own fears about death

older catAlso, our pet’s situation may put us in touch with our fears about our own death and dying, or that of loved ones. Add in uncertainty and it’s no surprise if we dread these times of necessary decisions for our pets. Heroic treatment or animal hospice? Euthanasia now? Soon? Or, see how we go? What to do?

Other people want to help and support us, but they may not always `get’ it.

‘It’s only a dog’, one may say. Another may be reassured if we tell them ‘it is what it is’. The person may say to us ‘be strong’—as if it is weak to admit that What Is is sad, or unnatural to weep for it…

Facing what we can in advance can make a big difference

Facing what we can in advance can make a big difference when times for decisions arrive. For example, we might gradually ponder and review our ideas, nourish our inner strength, and talk to our vets and wise others. Most of us would probably consult the internet, too.

That’s where this blog may come in. It isn’t about answers. But, I will try to provide a varied mixture of musings and nuggets.

Over to you! 
Do you prefer not to think about serious things—death, life, dying?
Are they a normal topic of conversation when you get together with friends?
What is your favourite quote or your favourite source of wisdom?

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

We can’t offer personal guidance or support, but we’d like to hear from you. Look out for our pet loss posts on facebook and instagram please do add your comments.

Are you struggling to cope with the loss of your pet? Visit our bereavement page for some helpful links.