February is a time often associated with the emotion of love, but did you know also happens to be National Heart and Dental Health month? What better time to share an article to help support families who love a senior or ill pet and what to monitor for with regards to their dental and cardiac health!
Dental Disease in Senior Pets
Many pets nearing end of life have dental disease. Often times this is due to the fact that their primary vet has determined that it may be too risky to administer the anesthesia for cleaning or extractions. For this reason, it’s so important to make sure your pet is receiving at least yearly health checkups at their primary veterinarian, so that they can receive dental care while they are still healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.
If your pet has dental disease that cannot be safely addressed with a routine dental, ask your vet for their recommendation to keep them comfortable. If your vet believes your pet’s dental disease may be causing them pain, they may prescribe a pain medication. They may also recommend switching your pet to a soft food or make other recommendations to ensure they can eat comfortably.
Dental disease, while not immediately life-threatening by itself, can constitute a very serious quality of life concern if it is causing pain or has an odor that is impacting your pet. Make sure your pet is receiving regular veterinary care and monitor them for changes in appetite, chewing patterns and any change in breath odor.
Your veterinarian will first explain the process from start to finish. We encourage pet families to ask questions, seek clarification or simply ask for the veterinarian to repeat or rephrase anything that is unclear. When we are experiencing grief or other intense emotion, sometimes our ability to process information is challenged. Please feel free to speak up if you are confused or needing information at any point during your appointment. Your veterinarian is there to address your concerns.
Your veterinarian will first administer sedation either under the skin or into the muscle, similar to how vaccines are given. If your pet is still eating, this is a great time to offer them a special treat (even chocolate) to distract them from that little poke. Your pet’s sedation cocktail is a powerful combination of pain medications and sedatives that will allow your pet to slip into a deep and pain-free sleep in about 10-15 minutes. Every pet is unique and if yours happens to need extra sedation to fall completely asleep, your veterinarian has everything they need. Once your pet is sleeping peacefully, your veterinarian will assess the depth of their sedation. This is often done by firmly squeezing your pet’s toes and toenails. When your pet no longer responds to that stimulation, we know their sedation is very deep. They are no longer feeling their body and they are ready to make their peaceful transition.
Administering Euthanasia Medication
Your pet’s euthanasia medication will be given into a vein and so an area of fur may be clipped from your pet’s leg and the area will be prepped. Occasionally, because of old age, certain disease processes or other patient factors, it’s possible that your veterinarian may have to try more than one spot to find a suitable vein to deliver the euthanasia medication. Rest assured that your pet will not be aware of this, nor will they be feeling anything at all. If your beloved pet is a cat, her euthanasia medication may be given into the kidney or liver. Our feline sedation protocol provides a surgical plane of anesthesia and so your cat will not experience any sensation regardless of where her euthanasia solution is given. Euthanasia medication is essentially an overdose of anesthesia (a barbiturate) which starts to work as it’s being given. It goes to work anesthetizing the brain completely first, which in turn brings the heart and lungs to a stop. This process is gentle and completely pain free for your pet. They will literally pass away in their sleep.
Time Alone with Your Pet
Your veterinarian will confirm that your pet has passed by listening to their heart and then they will return to their vehicle to give you privacy. When you are ready, let your veterinarian know and they will return with a stretcher or basket and tuck your pet in with a blanket. Depending on your pet’s weight, it may be necessary for someone in the home to help your veterinarian carry your pet. If your pet is very small and you would like to carry them yourself to the vet’s car, let your veterinarian know as we are always accommodating. There is also zero expectation to carry your own pet if it’s not right for you.
This is Your Time and We are Here to Serve You
Your veterinarian understands that while every family is different, it’s very likely you will be experiencing grief and feeling intense emotion on this day. For many people, saying goodbye to a pet may be the greatest loss of their lifetime. A recent survey found that 68% of Americans report that the loss of a pet was harder than the loss of a human loved one. Please don’t feel embarrassed or apologize for expressing grief during your pet’s appointment. Your veterinarian will do their utmost to support you while they make your pet’s peaceful transition a priority. If you find that you need support after your pet has passed, our team has an on-staff Grief Support Specialist and your first counseling session with her is complimentary.
Thank you for trusting Caring Pathways. It is our honor and privilege to serve you during this difficult time.
Written by: Dr. Mavi Graves, Caring Pathways Veterinarian
Dr. Mavi moved back to CO to attend vet school at CSU. While at CSU, she served as a manager of the student volunteer pet hospice program and that’s when she discovered end-of-life care as her veterinary calling. Dr. Mavi feels that the end-of-life journey is an incredibly sacred and meaningful time to serve pet families and she feels strongly about the importance of letting pets pass away at home. It is an honor to facilitate gentle and peaceful euthanasia experiences and to that end, Dr. Mavi has earned her Fear-Free Certification. She is also working towards acupuncture certification and strives for excellence and personal betterment in supporting pet owners through what may be one of the most difficult days of their lives.