Experts: Focus on Quality Of Life For Canine End Of Life Care

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
What to do for our senior dogs in their end days presents a heart-wrenching dilemma and experts suggest that quality of life should be the focus of any decisions.

Puppies and young dogs are adorable and challenging as you train them and they grow into their canine adulthood, but living with and loving a senior dog also has its emotional challenges. Thanks to more research and technology, veterinarians are saying that on average, America’s 70 million dogs are living longer.

For those who love their furry family members and agree that a dog’s fault is only his too-short lifespan, that is a good thing. But like all good things…they come to an end, and in doing so, leave pet owners struggling to figure out how to best handle their dog’s last years and days.

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Too often, we who love our pets want to be aggressive in doing whatever needs to be done to extend our pet’s life and keep them with us. My family is facing this now–our 11-year-old golden retriever has a rare tumor inside the bone of her back leg that requires regular pain medicine and vet visits to see if it’s the day we have to make tough decisions.

Assistant Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Dr. Alicia Karas, suggests that a more holistic approach to treatment for end of life care in older dogs may be the more humane way to go. Saying that we sometimes pay more attention to what the obvious issue or the x-ray results say, we often fail to see what an animal’s countenance and behavior are like in the exam room, and pay attention to their quality of life.

While the common old-age ailments for humans may be similar to those in dogs, ranging from arthritis to cancer, sometimes veterinarians have to look beyond certain drugs for treatment as other ailments may cause complications. For instance, steroids would be a typical course of treatment for my dog, but because she also has Cushing’s Disease, she cannot take them. We have been limited in the types of pain medications she can have, and for reasons like this, Dr. Karas suggests things other than traditional pharmaceuticals, including massage, physical therapy and therapeutic ultrasound as beneficial for senior dogs.

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Oxford, Michigan veterinarian Dr. Stephen Steep also likes to give his clients a selection of treatment plans that include less aggressive methods to ensure a greater quality of life for the remaining days the dog have. For him, the pet’s comfort is the most important thing, and he helps his clients understand that the aging of a dog is not necessarily disease but simply part of the life process. He understands that deep love for pets is what drives their inability to let go of their dog when it’s time, but reminds them that the pet’s comfort is ultimately what it is all about.

Dr. Steep gently asks how a dog’s appetite and sleep patterns are, and whether he is still walking normally when taken out. Most times, he says, pet parents realize that the end is there and the best thing to do is to just let go. For us, our vet has recommended that we think of three things our Dixie loves to do, and when it gets to the point that she has difficulty doing two of the three, we need to put her needs and comforts above the ache in our hearts.

While we know that day is coming, and dread it, we also agree with the experts that her quality of life is just as important as, if not more than, her physical presence with us, and truly loving her means knowing when to let her go.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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