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Ask The Vet: Quality of life for dying pet is crucial to consider

Ask The Vet: Quality of life for dying pet is crucial to consider

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Q: My cat has been diagnosed with an intestinal tumor and probably has cancer. She is not eating and is doing poorly, but I am not ready to euthanize. I am devastated, and I do not know what the right decision is for her. Please help!

A: I am sorry that your cat is so sick as we can all empathize with what you are going through. It can be emotionally devastating when our furry friends become ill, especially when their conditions are terminal.

Dealing with the grief that accompanies the death of a pet can be exceedingly difficult. It can start even before the pet has died. The process of grieving is fundamental and must not be overlooked as it can influence your decisions for your cat.

The best question that you asked was that you did not know what the best decision was for your cat. Although moving through the grief process is essential for you as a human, you must look at the reality of what your cat is going through.

Everyone makes different medical decisions for their pets based on their own experience and beliefs. Ultimately, you will be the one who needs to decide for your cat. However, factoring in your cat's quality of life is essential in your decision-making process.

Your cat will likely need very invasive and expensive therapies to prolong her life, so you need to ask yourself a few questions: 1. Will your cat tolerate the treatments? Likely your cat will need daily medications. Can you give her oral medications successfully, or will it be stressful for her and you? 2. Your cat will likely need to be hospitalized for many nights and might need surgery. Is this going to cause undue suffering for your cat? 3. The treatments to try and save your cat will likely be expensive. Can you legitimately afford the treatments? 4. You might spend every penny you have on treating your cat, and she still might die as there are no guarantees. Are you ready for that outcome?

No one decision is right. Everyone will choose differently, so do not get caught up in what other people tell you to do as they are not the ones who need to live with the decision. You must think about your cat and the best decision for her based on the provided information.

In my experience over the years, people tend to feel that they waited too long to euthanize and very rarely feel that they euthanized too soon. So, do not be afraid of euthanasia. Giving a beloved pet a peaceful and painless death is the last gift you can give them.

Q: I want my sick dog to die naturally at home rather than euthanize. What can I expect?

A: This is a question that we get a lot because having a beloved pet die peacefully asleep in their bed at home is ideal for all of us. Unfortunately, the reality of the process of natural death is usually not peaceful. It can be quite traumatizing in some cases.

Animals tend to linger with terminal illnesses and tend to go into starvation modes prior to dying. Death can take days to weeks as the animal starves and becomes severely dehydrated. Animals can become quite stressed through this process as you cannot rationally explain to them what is happening.

Towards the end, animals can become quite panicked when they start having difficulty breathing. They can also have agonal breathing for long periods of time; agonal breathing is similar to the death rattle in people. This can be a traumatizing experience for you and your pet if you are not mentally prepared.

If you understand what might happen and make your pet as comfortable as possible without them suffering, then letting them die naturally can be acceptable.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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Back home in Flagstaff, retirement resumed, Buck Wickham looks none the worse for wear. Another fire season will come, soon enough, and he will sure as heck be there once more in the midst of the action. But for now, Buck in winter is content to dust off his golf clubs, scratch his beloved Aussie Shepherd, Bessie, behind the ears, trade his cowboy boots for hiking boots or, really, just chill and reflect on another hot, dry summer on the front lines now safely in the books.

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