Written by Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya, DVM
Death and dying are not common topics for dinner conversation. Many people have difficulty talking about or even thinking about dying. Relative to aging or ailing animals, conversations about dying might be construed as giving up hope, or admitting failure, oir even jinxing a patient. We don't want to obsess about death, but accepting mortality and the inevitability of death allows ut to appreciate life. Convalescent care and hospice care benefit from your ability to "read" your animal companion to identify and attend to their physical and emotional needs, including knowing when you are approaching a parting of ways. Being educated and informed about aging and dying is not equal to wanting a pet to rush to the finish line. If our goal is to facilitate a graceful exit, being informed about the dying process allows us to know what pitfalls we want to avoid. Being informed and prepared maximizes the chances that our animal companion can enjoy as many good days as possible and exit gracefully.
Once we accept the inevitability of eventual death, we can have the conversation about how we might want our animals companions to die: namely, whether we prefer nature to determine the time of their last breath or whether we prefer to schedule a euthanasia. If the latter option is chosen, when do we do it?
In either case, the goals for me are: (a) that the animal remains comfortable throughout the process; (b) that the animal experiences a graceful exit.
As with any self-help or do it yourself or guidebook such as this, there is always the potential for misinterpretation and/or misuse. There is always the potential for someone to extract a phrase from my work, apply it in a different context, and use it to justify an action that I wouldn't myself advise. At some level, the risk may be even greater because I do not tell people exactly what to do; I merely provide information and suggest things that they might consider. Empowerment requires a leap of faith that they who you empower will not use it inappropriately. In both Kindred Spirit Kindred Care and Graceful Aging Graceful Exits, I choose to empower the humans who truly do care about their animal companions and desire to make informed, thoughtful, and selfless decisions on their pet's behalf. I hope that my sincerity as an advocate for the animals and the human-animal bond comes through and that the cases where that tone is misconstrued and misused are rare events at best.
This text is by no means a substitute for veterinary evaluation, assessment, and treatment. This text is meant to help people provide supportive and nursing care for their pets. Particularly with middle-aged and older patients, however, I often enough meet people who assume that their dog is "old" and therefore, whatever is ailing them must be bad and incurable. It would sadden me to learn that someone has skipped over a professional assessment and unwittingly short-changed their animal companion a straight-forward medical solution.