For those who read my blog regularly, you have heard me mention Loki. Loki was our first dog. He was diagnosed with an immune disorder when he was 5 and a half and again when he was 7 and a half. The second time we were given a one year prognosis. So for 11 months our focus was on keeping Loki as healthy and happy as possible. FYI: Our vet at Ottawa Vet Hospital says his disease was the weirdest he has ever treated (lucky us!)
Looking back at our year of living with a terminally ill pet, here are some things I learned:
1) Trust your instincts. If you believe something is wrong with your pet, follow through and get tests. The first vet I saw the second time he got sick (my vet was away for a couple weeks), didn't believe me that something was wrong. I waited and went back to my vet who saw something was wrong and started testing.
2) Know your limits. If these are financial or just acceptable quality of life for your pet, have that in your head. This will help you make decisions during those emotional moments (for example, I thought blood doping was beyond what I was comfortable with and after a first biopsy confirmed he was dying, I refused to put him through the pain of a second to figure out how quickly).
3) Find a vet your trust and don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion! If they are insulted by this, you don't want to do business with them.
4) Be prepared for changes in other pets behaviour. Try and give the others the love and attention they need during this time. Gemini developed obsessive drinking (8 cups of water a day for her little 16 lbs self) which lead to tones of accidents and her hair fell out. We had her tested for lots of things, but it turned out she just was stressed.
5) I wish I had looked at cremation options before the day we said goodbye. I recommend asking your vet for the brochures before and "pre-planning." (This was much easier with Gemini because I knew what I wanted and didn't have to make that decision in the moments before the final goodbye).
6) Take lots of pictures. The picture I have attached above shows my very sick puppy and does make me sad, but it also is a reminder of the life he and we lived for parts of those 11 months.
7) Take care of yourself. Because I got so wrapped up in the caring for the dying, I probably didn't always manage my own stress levels appropriately. In fact I didn't realize the stress I was under until a few days after he died and I felt that sense of relief. Care for the caregivers is important.
8) Spoil the heck out of them! We had to balance keeping Loki healthy with giving him a great quality of life. Since he had an immune disorder we were concerned about exposing him to other dogs/situations. There came a point however when I remember thinking, he is dying anyway, I would rather give him fewer great days than more ok days. The last couple months we also let him eat whatever he wanted!
9) Know when it is time to say goodbye. I always said I would know, and the truth was, it was Loki who told me. He had slowly been getting sicker and then he had the best day he had in weeks followed by the worst night ever. Sometime around dawn, he looked and me and we both knew, today was the day.
10) Take time to say goodbye. I knew about 5 am that it was time to say goodbye. We said goodbye about 5:30 pm that day. While I didn't want to prolong his suffering I wanted to make sure that we had those last few precious hours to say goodbye.
Caring for a dying pet and saying goodbye is not easy. It is one of those things people don't like to talk about. Unfortunately sometimes it is part of the journey. Wishing all your pets great health!