From the Introduction
As I finished writing this book I found myself suddenly immersed in some of the issues it covers. My elderly dog became seriously ill--lethargy and refusing to eat were the first flashing red warning signs that all was not well and so the vet visits began. Initially, clinical examination could only hone the problem down to his lungs, and although he was put on antibiotics and pain relief I did not know if the medication was really helping him.
Everything in me was screaming to understand--was my dog suffering and could anything be done to help him? I found myself see-sawing between despair and hope with an increasing anxiety about wanting to do what was best for this beautiful little dog who had graced our lives for 13 years. When he was kept at the vet practice to have intravenous fluids the house felt hauntingly empty, and each night as I lay in bed listening to his breathing, I wondered if it was our last one together. I began to feel the stability of my life as I knew it, in which our little dog was central, falling apart. I dreaded having to say Goodbye but desperately wanted to avoid him suffering if his death was inevitable in the near future. It was a roller-coaster of emotions that I simply had to ride out--and it hurt. To stop my mind racing from one potential outcome to another, I knew we needed to find out more about his condition and prognosis so that we had more facts with which to work. This meant asking our vet some pertinent questions.
This personal experience reminded me how important the subject of this book is for guardians trying to find their way through such a confusing, emotional, and stressful time. I was aware and grateful that I had my husband and friends with whom to talk things through, but I know from supporting guardians over the years that some people have to go through this on their own.
This book was written so that no one has to feel totally alone on this journey. It offers understanding, compassion, and practical guidance, including activities about how to talk to your vet in the section on “Preparing for Pet Loss”.
From Chapter 2: Talking to Your Vet about Possible End-of-Life
This is an area that is difficult to consider but immensely important. A good starting place is to talk openly and honestly with the vet staff about end-of-life issues. This will allow you to ask about the things that worry you so that you can be best informed about your pet’s condition, what to expect, and what you can do to keep them comfortable during the time they have left.
Remember that the vet team have your pet’s best interests at heart, and want to do what they can to prevent your animal suffering. They also want to make sure that when the time comes for you to say goodbye, it is an easy and kind death. But they are also there for you, the guardian, to offer guidance as you find your way through this distressing time. This first activity is to help you to prepare for the crucial initial discussion with your vet so that you can find out everything you need to know before deciding whether euthanasia is the kindest option for your beloved companion animal.
Give yourself some time to think about and jot down what you need to ask your vet.
Activity: Consulting your vet
Here are some possible questions that you can use or you may prefer to write your own. Leave a space next to each question so you can jot down what the vet says in response.
What I need to ask about my pet’s prognosis
--Can you do anything to help my pet to comfortably live longer, such as surgery or medical treatment?
--What would my pet go through, e.g., how would they feel during the treatment?
--How long do you think the treatment would give them?
--Without any treatment, how long do you think my pet will live before they need to be put to sleep?
--What would you do if this were your pet?
Once you know that your pet is nearing the end of their time, free-floating worries and fears can surface because you don’t know what to expect as their condition gets worse. This next activity is to help you to work out what is on your mind and what you now need to ask the vet team.
Activity: Finding out what to expect as time progresses
Make a list of all the things that you feel you need to find out. Even though it is painful to articulate your thoughts in this way, write everything down so that it’s in black and white out in the open, ready to discuss with your vet. Don’t feel under pressure to list everything at once, as what you need to know may change as time progresses.
A few example questions are given to help to get you started, but ignore any that don’t apply and add your own. Make sure you leave a space next to each question to jot down what the vet says.
What I need to ask
--What should I expect as time progresses?
--What changes may I see in how my pet behaves as they get weaker?
--How will I know if my pet is in pain?
--What can I do about it?
--Are there any side effects from their medication?
--What will help to keep my pet more comfortable? (E.g., softer bedding, greater warmth/shelter, special diet, less handling, a quieter environment, etc.)
To recap, this exercise is to work out what you need to ask your vet and to keep a note of what is said, so you can refer to it later. Some of it will probably change over time.