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How can I tell if my pet is in pain?

Pain does not mean your pet is dying, it means there is something wrong. Do not assume that your pet is desiring death because it has "checked out" and is not being interactive with you for a day or two.

Cats and dogs may not show outward signs of pain, such as whimpering or crying. Sometimes they will continue to eat or drink in spite of pain, panting or disorientation. They may lose their normal activity levels, appetite and grooming tendencies, or may exhibit inappropriate elimination, vocalization and aggression.

dog nose Some physiological and behavioral signs that your pet might be experiencing pain include:
- excessive panting or gasping for breath
- reclusiveness
- reluctance to move
- food pickiness

Read this great article "Ouch! That hurts! Recognizing Pain in your Pet" to see what pain might look like... HERE.

If you’re unsure of how much your pet is suffering, keep a Daily Record (HERE) of good days and bad days. It’s also important to ask your veterinarian for the specific signs of suffering likely to be associated with your pet’s condition or disease.

To read more about pain in dogs and cats, causes of pain, treatments, and more: the AAHA/AAFP Pain Management for Dogs and Cats (HERE). Check out page 242 to see a chart for pain management.

What Determines a Good Quality of Life for My Pet?

Does your pet seem irritable, restless or confused? Has he lost his appetite or does he drink water excessively? Does he avoid his favorite activities? Is your pet picked on by other animals in the home? This can happen when a sick or elderly dog becomes the weakest member of the “pack.” Does he seek out unusual places to sleep or hide?

How does your pet rate on the "Quality of Life Scale" by Dr. Alice Villalobos?

Click HERE for an easy-to-fill-out downloadable daily diary of your pet's quality of life.

What Do I Need to Know in Order to Provide Home Hospice Care
for My Terminally Ill Pet?

Your vet should teach you how to administer pain medication, change bandages, provide fluid therapy and perform general nursing duties, including keeping your pets comfortable and clean. One of the most important jobs you will have is to observe and report any changes in your pet’s behavior, weight, temperature, eating habits, mobility and overall well-being (Simpawtico Animal Hospice of Santa Cruz County can perform these jobs if you are not available). If you notice any changes, immediately contact your veterinarian, who may adjust your pet’s medication and treatment. It’s also important to remember that euthanasia may still be necessary with hospice care. If a peaceful, natural end is unlikely or your pet is in pain, you may decide to end his suffering with euthanasia.

How can I afford additional costs after paying for diagnostic tests and/or treatment?

Look at what veterinary care is recommended and decide how much you can handle personally and financially. Then decide when and how often you want assistance. Some of Simpawtico's services may be covered under your pet insurance, if your veterinarian prescribes it. We can also help you apply for financial assistance from a number of programs if you are low income (with proof). Simpawtico Animal Hospice is available to support you... we are just a phone call away.

Does my animal know that it is dying?

We don't have a definitive answer for this question, but here is what we have seen... many times it seems that an animal is at peace about its passing if its human family is at peace. Animals many times reflect the attitudes of their human companions and if the owner is inconsolably sad, the animal will be in distress. The more we are balanced when facing our animal's death, the more calmness we see in the animal.

I have a pet dying of cancer and none of the other animals will go near him... is this normal?

Just as with humans, there are different ways that creatures act when anyone is sick or dying. Many people avoid visiting a loved one that has cancer for a variety of reasons that others may not understand. It is not for us to judge the other animals' response to an ailing animal. Our job is to support all of the animals in the household in whatever way serves each individual best. If the family animals are avoiding the sick animal, we could choose to spend quality time with the sick animal so that it does not feel left out of the family, and continue to be kind to all of the other animals. We do not know of the interactions and the requests between all of our animals and our job is to honor each individual need as compassionately as possible.

Will My Other Pets Grieve a Pet Who Has Passed Away?

After the loss of a companion animal, there may be changes in their surviving pet’s behavior. Sometimes your pet appears depressed and shows little interest in play or food, and it often helps to simply give your surviving pet some extra attention and love. Sit and share with the grieving animal about the loss, holding the animal, sitting next to it, or across from it, whichever is accepted by the animal, and tell them `exactly' what happened to their animal friend. Tell them very slowly and explain all of the details of the loss. We don't know whether the animal understands your words, sees images through your thought processes or feels your emotions, but sharing seems to help.

It is also well-documented that pets can recognize death in a companion animal. Cats, dogs and horses who see the deceased body of an animal they knew can adjust very well and spend less time searching and grieving than pets who have not seen their companion’s remains.

Should I be present during euthanasia?

This is a very personal act and no one can tell you what is appropriate for YOU during this time - it is your personal choice. Some people want to hold their animal during the procedure, and to be with it for the last breath as a very important part of the total relationship. Some people know that they do not have the emotional ability and choose to say goodbye before the injection. Another person may choose to have the animal driven to the veterinarian's office by someone else and to say goodbye at their home. Another may not participate at all and leave the entire process up to a friend or a family member. These examples are given with no judgment about what is the right thing to do... because there is no one right way, only the right way for you and your family.

Ask yourself "Will I regret not being there? Will I feel guilt?" The decision cannot be reversed once the animal has been injected. It is very important that you have all of the facts about the euthanasia process and that you completely understand what to expect tand how it will be to be present.

No one is comfortable with death and your discomfort level should not influence your decision.

What should I expect to happen?

You may choose to contact a veterinarian that comes to your home. You should contact them well in advance to let them know you will need them at some point. Some vets have "euthanisia packages" which may include a consult, euthanasia, and more.

If you choose to go to your vet's office and your pet is usually apprehensive about seeing the vet, you might want to ask for a sedative to calm your dog before the journey. Once you arrive, it is a good idea to leave your pet in the car while you go in and let them know you have arrived. That way, you can bring your pet directly into the exam room. You should not have to be isolated in the exam room for very long.

How is euthanasia administered?

A sedative is given which relaxes your pet and relieves anxiety. When you, your family, and pet are ready, an intravenous injection is administered providing a peaceful transition.

When the veterinarian is ready to administer the euthanasia solution, an assistant will help hold your pet and put a slight amount of pressure on a vein, usually in the foreleg. This allows the veterinarian to see the vein better and aids in passing a fine needle into the vein. When it is certain that the needle is within the vein, the veterinarian slowly injects the euthanasia solution.

Most euthanasia solutions are a combination of chemicals whose intent is to effect a quick and painless termination of nerve transmission and to effect complete muscle relaxation. When nerve impulses are not conducted there is no thought, no sensation, no movement.

Usually within six to twelve seconds after the solution is injected the pet will take a slightly deeper breath, then grow weak and finally lapse into what looks like a deep sleep. The pet, although completely unconscious, may continue to take a few more breaths before all movement ceases. The older and sicker the pet, the longer this unconscious breathing state goes on.

Will the hospice team help me decide about what to do with my pet’s body after death?

Yes, there are several choices including burial at home, burial at a pet cemetery, individual cremation with ashes returned, cremation with the ashes scattered or you may choose not to have the ashes returned. We will provide you with all the necessary information to make the best choice for you and your family.

How can I help my child deal with the death of our animal companion?

Children express grief more openly than most adults do. They may cry and be so upset that the parent may be concerned for their well being. Because children express their grief more openly, they will usually pass through all of the stages much faster than an adult. The most important support you can give to a child is to validate their feelings. Ask how the child is feeling and listen to them without trying to fix any of the pain. Let the child express and cry as much as they need to. Hold them and share your own sorrow and feelings. It may help to talk about the animal's life, share thoughts about the animal and bring up all the good things about that animal's life. Adults should not try to change or end the conversation because of the pain that it brings up for themselves. How children learn about love and death with their animal family, many times, will set the stage for how they deal with love and loss about their human family.

Here are a few activities that may help your child deal with his or her grief: kid and a white lab dog

• It may help some children to draw a picture of their pet, or write a letter to their pet.
• Sometimes it can help to have a memorial service, including the entire family and friends who knew your pet.
• You can plant a tree or flowers in your pet's honor.
• It may make some children better to keep something that their pet really loved-such as a collar, tag or favorite toy.
• You and your child can make a photo album of the pet.
• Sharing memories of your pet can make your children sad, but it can make them laugh, too, and will help your child understand that everyone is feeling the loss as well.
• Continue his or her regular activities - such as going to practice or rehearsal after school, playing outside or going for a bike ride – whether or not they feel like it.
• Give your child one of the books on pet loss (see PET LOSS SUPPORT).

Is it normal to feel so sad/angry/guilty/depressed?

The most important thing is to acknowledge that you just lost something that you loved very dearly. It does not matter what type of an animal it was, we are now suffering and grieving, not unlike when someone has lost a human companion. Find like minded animal lovers to share your sadness with. People who have loved and lost companion animals, will help you realize that you are perfectly normal and that this is the grieving process. You will heal in your own time frame and in your own way. Be gentle with your expectations and live one day at a time, as you begin to heal.

What do I say when someone says "It was just an animal, you can always get another one"?

You cannot control other people's responses to pain and loss. Many people who are unsupportive at the time of an animal's death have never had a deep relationship with an animal. They are not being cruel, they just do not have the capacity to understand because it has never been their experience. The only way to deal with insensitive people is to try to avoid situations where they are able to give their advice to us. Spend time with close friends who do understand how sorrowful you are at this time. Go for long walks in the fresh air. Spend time where you and your animal friend had shared happy moments. Reflect on the joy that the animal brought into your life.

What should I do or say when my friend loses an animal?

Every situation is different, depending upon the personality of your friend, and the circumstances under which the animal was lost. Many times the best thing to do is to be VERY available to the grieving person. To hug them and cry with them or just say, "I am so sorry, how are you feeling?" and then just listen. Do not give opinions about death or loss, or about your past losses. Be present and express sincere concern through your listening and care. Do not offer advice. Each person grieves in their own extremely personal way and the most important part that we can play in our friends healing, is to let them know that we care.

How long does grief last and how long should I expect to feel this way?

There is no right or correct amount of time for grief. Each person will grieve as long as they need to, depending on the circumstances of the loss, the healing time may be long or short. If a person has a busy life, healing may be rapid. If the animal was the primary focus of the person's life, it may take a very long time to heal through the loss. If you feel that your loss is keeping you from caring for yourself, and that you are unable to focus, possibly it would be good to seek professional help that understands the depth of the animal human bond. Please see PET LOSS SUPPORT for grief lines, a pet loss counseling group, or individual therapy.

What is a pet trust? Why do I need one?

If you want to guarantee that your companion is well cared for, then yes, you want a pet trust - the sooner the better.

Please see this PAGE for information about pet trusts.



Simpawtico Animal Hospice of Santa Cruz County
is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation
All donations are tax-deductible