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Pets and Old Timers Disease

 
gardener
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We have a Maine Coon Cat that is past her 15th birthday.  She still gets around....climbs stairs....and sleeps on the 3rd level of the cat tree (about 4ft off the floor).  She still eats, but she has lost a great deal of weight. Yes, she has been to the vet.

I try to have family members live out their lives.  My guidelines for exceptions are if the animal is suffering or if the quality of life is not there.

What guidelines do others use?
 
pollinator
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My purr-baby was 18 when he started going blind so we made him an indoor cat. He'd still sneak out, but only went as far as the porch. He died at 25. As long as they're happy, I see no reason to take drastic action.
 
pollinator
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I wanted to reply in your topic, because we had a dog like this. She didn't have any one serious health issue, but just plenty of smaller problems that were making her life harder as she aged. She also lost her owner (my grandmother) and the dog she bonded with after her owner's death (my older dog). After that she was just devastatingly depressed. So we decided to euthanize her to stop her suffering, although none of her health issues was "serious enough". It was hard at the vets who kept saying that she's putting down a healthy dog. I understand her; she just wanted to be legal.

I think, that if it's something like this - nothing sudden or very painful, but just going downhill every day... I would maybe arrange a date in a more distant future - even in a couple of weeks - and agree on that with the vet if you can. So that the whole family can prepare for that day, and really care for the animal during this time.
 
pollinator
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I am with you on that one John.  My animals are part of my family, at any rate, they are living creatures that require no less respect, kindness and care than anyone else.  I also agree with you Lauren, only dire suffering and my total inability to help would induce me to euthanise.

I had a larger than usual border collie who lived to be 19.  Towards the end, she was mostly deaf, she couldn't see so well and you could tell that the old joints were more than a bit rusty and painful, sometimes, she forgot herself, but she still ate with appetite and was still trying to engage with enthusiasm in all the activities around.  She was a very unusual dog, as she would actually "smile" at us.  When one morning she could no longer get up and subsequently started whimpering every time she moved, that's when we called the vet.  She died peacefully in her own bed, surrounded by the love she'd always known.

I always have had any number of injured or sick animals in my kitchen, and I always have given them the chance they deserved, even when the consensus was:"Why don't you wring that bloody chicken's neck, you're wasting your time!" or :"It's just a rabbit, what's wrong with you!".  But hey! that's just me.  Those are my guidelines.
 
pollinator
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I feel knowledge and preparation is the key when dealing with ANY big decision, end of life is one of the biggest. In my experience (I do a lot of palliative animals), if we are ABLE to truly be honest with ourselves, AND do what is in the animals best interests (as opposed to personally not being ready to let go), they will tell us.  The reality is, many suffer overlong as the human is not ready or able to let go. Just as often they are put down prematurely as the human is unwilling or unable to provide the care and treatment required.  For me the key is not quantity, but QUALITY OF LIFE:  As long as there is little to no suffering, coupled with the animals DESIRE to continue, and daily proof of that true JOY is still outpacing "simply existing" - then you are good, for another day at least.

Spay/neuter, annual vaccines and monthly parasite prevention are all common treatments many consider normal; dental care is equally crucial - albeit potentially more costly - and can extend high quality life for many years. I would venture, a pet who never lives with dental disease can expect to an additional 30-50% more years of life - it really does make a HUGE difference to their overall health, let alone comfort.  Undiagnosed, low grade dental disease, commonly causes permanent damage, to the heart and kidneys in particular, leading to premature organ failure.

Other common geriatric issues are heart, lung, kidney, liver and thyroid; along with arthritis, dementia and loss of sight and or hearing. Seriously consider budgeting for a geriatric blood panel, annually. This will catch major organ issues early when diet and simple, inexpensive meds can make a huge difference in both the quality and longevity of an animals life. Do not overlook "changes", especially in temperament, energy, eating or toileting for days or weeks; this is especially critical in the elderly, they can crash fast. Early intervention generally means better outcomes, and lower bills.

CARING FOR THE GERIATRIC PET:

EYESIGHT: When cataracts or other vision issues threaten, take a good look around, and move or change any furniture NOW. As a pet loses their sight, ensure you don't place new obstacles in their path; install motion activated nightlights on all indoor and outdoor pathways - these blink on and even if unable to see shapes, they can often see light changes. Consider runners or other textural pathways to help them navigate; consider using cleated ramps in place of stairs as depth perception can fail.

HEARING: Put bells, loud ones, on pets with diminished hearing. When they can no longer hear you; you will need to "hear" them to figure out where they are.

PAIN:  We all "feel it" as we age, the achy joints, bad backs...arthritis. Countless pets have bought years of quality life with simply pain relief. Many balk at giving daily meds; my question is would YOU be okay suffering needlessly? If money is no object, acupuncture, massage, swim therapy (no, not at the lake or ocean, in a pet specific therapeutic facility) or underwater treadmills in warm, non chlorinated water can be excellent options.  Supplements such as Turmeric, glucosamine, chondroiton etc. can and should be discussed with your vet. Even a heated or plushy bed can make a huge difference.  But please, don't let your friend suffer, needlessly, in pain.

INCONTINENCE: Consider creating set potty times and actually take them out, or TO, the potty location at set times throughout the day.  Those with medical, sensory or mental deficits may no longer leave themselves "enough time" to get to prevent accidents. Consider pee pads or add litter boxes so there are multiple indoor options.

FEEDING: Meals may be better tolerated as smaller amounts, more frequently, especially if meds need to be taken with OR without food.

MEDICATING:  Giving medication can be challenging...  Processed cheese slices (I KNOW, ugh) when left out to soften for 10-15 mins make fabulous pill wraps to disguise medication. Often, one slice can do as many as 5, if not 10 pills. I find it WAY cheaper than the commercial alternatives; less messy than canned food/peanut butter and it is RARE for them to remove the pill from the cheese.

Of late, compounding pharmacies are becoming more available. These take ANY medication and specially prepare them as tasty liquids (fish flavor anyone?) or pills. Commonly this IS more expensive than standard pills - but if you can't get the animal to TAKE their medication, or you are unable to GIVE pills, this is a wonderful alternative.



HOW DO YOU KNOW, WHEN IT IS TIME...: Look to their personality (not their deficits, conditions, abilities or prognosis) for clues. At times this will be a day by day, even hour by hour process; the keys for me are appetite, body language and interest in life - I sum it up as JOY; but when the joy is fading, it can tough.  

Be honest, are they literally faking it for you, or are they still, genuinely excited to see and interact with both you and their food. It's perfectly okay, if they don't move around much, or seem to snooze a lot; so long as they are NOT uncomfortable, and still have joy. There is never a hard or fast rule, this is when you really need to know your gut, and trust it - don't cut life short, but don't hold out TOO long - the key word is quality.  As long as there is little to no suffering, coupled with the animals DESIRE to continue, and daily proof of that true JOY is still outpacing "simply existing" - then you are good for another day.

EUTHANASIA:  Method of death can vary from a caringly placed bullet (into the base, at the rear of the skull, close range), a visit TO the vet, or even a vet coming to your home.

A great vet will administer, via IV, a specialized cocktail (often 4-5 drugs) for initial sedation, and when you are ready, an inter-cardiac shot that will (almost) instantly stop the heart. There may be a few "agonal" breaths, or twitching; at times anal or bladder leakage can occur. This is all a result of residual brain and/or nerve impulses, and NOT signs of distress or life.  Many vets will offer to take fur trimmings, paw prints, even clay paw prints where the paw is pressed into clay that is then glazed and fired (some even can put this on a mug) so you can have a permanent memorial.

CREMATION vs. BURIAL: When chemical euthanasia is used, cremation is critical to ensure accidental consumption of the body does not occur as this, logically, could KILL anything that fed off the body.  If you want a whole body burial, then alternative to chemical euthanasia will likely be required.

PRIVATE vs. COMMUNAL CREMATION: Cremation can be costly, especially if you choose private over communal. Private means the pet is the only one in the chamber, the ashes are collected, packaged, placed in an Urn, and returned to you.

Communal IS more environmentally friendly, as the chamber is respectfully filled, before commencing the cremation.  It does mean no returned ashes, but all ashes are collected and placed or scattered in a dignified manner, often in a pet cemetery where you can visit.


Assuming you are physically and financially able to provide:  I believe there is NOTHING disloyal in seeking a new companion.  In fact I feel it is honoring those who pass by not wasting a fabulous home and allowing another deserving friend to fill the vacancy.  I think your friend would be saddened to see you without companionship due to pining for them or being "unwilling" to experience such loss again; and I think they would be disappointed to see such a good home go to waste...I believe the passing of one animal is to create room for another needing a home.

Pets are NEVER replaced; they simply live fewer years than us, so we have ROOM for more of them, throughout OUR life.
 
pollinator
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I am facing this with a 15 year old rescue hound. His mobility is so hard and painful that I know a long winter of ice and snow will border on cruel. His hearing and eyesight is fading; but his enthusiasm and loyalty is unwavering; his body has let him down. I am in no hurry, but his time is near, and I will not allow him to suffer. I hope someone will have equivalent courage and compassion when my time comes.

BTW, I'm not sure where Lorinne's post went.
 
gardener
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That's weird, Douglass. Sometimes we do get an odd hiccup, here and there. I'd just chalk it up to that.
 
John F Dean
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I just got some  good news with our old kitty.  I found her in our basement hunting  for mice.  She was never a great mouser, but at least there is evidence of quality of life for her.  What fascinated me is that our Master Mouser was with her ..... watching from a distance. Now I know our MM could have waped out every mouse in the basement in minutes without an assist. Instead, she respectfully waited while great grandma took her time.
 
Flora Eerschay
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That's great, John. My dog is recovering too. I still believe that it was unethical what we did to save him, but we're past it now. He will be mostly fine (just with some scars), I guess he might develop some problems later on, because we stuffed him with a ton of drugs. But he's relatively young for a dog so there is probably a couple of good years ahead of him.
 
John F Dean
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From the day we are born, we are all dying.  On the way, some of us have violent brushes with death. In other cases, the brush was just as close but not noticed.  When we are in the position of caring for others, all we can do is to make the best decision possible at the moment. After that, we also have to accept that we will wake up at 2:00 AM a nearly infinite number of times wondering if we did the right thing.  Of course, being human, no matter what path we decide upon, we will still wake up wondering.
 
John F Dean
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My Maine Coon cat made her final trip to the vet yesterday.  Her quality of life had been gone for a week. She has lost a great deal of weight, and yesterday morning she began to exhibit higher level of pain. It was clearly time.  
 
pollinator
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I'm really sorry to hear that, John.  It's heartbreaking to lose a pet.
 
Yeah, but does being a ninja come with a dental plan? And what about this tiny ad?
Rocket Mass Heater Manual - now free for a while
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