A TIME FOR PAWS
The Circle of Life
Our pets go through life the same way we do – birth, youth, middle age, old age, and death. It is what they call the “Circle of Life” in the “Lion King.” One of the most common questions we receive from our clients when discussing life spans is asking when it is the right time for their pets to die. This is a question that is very hard to answer on many levels. It is deeply personal, and every pet owner has a different approach to how this should be addressed, based on their personal experiences and their religious beliefs. Since it is so complex, I encourage you to seek out more information and even talk to a mental health care provider or your pastor to help you navigate this process.
Our pets love us unconditionally. They are always there for comfort (a tail wag or a purr) and companionship. They don’t judge how you look or talk or dress. This unconditional love puts them into a very special place in our hearts and minds. They work themselves deeply into our sense of who we are and provide tremendous comfort. So, it is understandable to have very strong feelings about losing them and about the process of helping them as they age and approach death.
Life is sacred and we should do everything we can to protect it and make sure our pets have comfortable lives. Providing a safe place to live with food and fresh water is what I consider the minimum care they deserve. Furthermore, I recommend going beyond that and providing them with lots of love and play time. The joy you will receive in return will be multiplied many fold. Regular visits to your veterinarian can help you make sure your pet is healthy and hopefully help it live a long life.
As pets get older, they develop health problems just like older people. Some of these are fairly easy to address early on but may get much harder as the pet ages. For example, some types of cancer and severe arthritis are types of health problems that can result in lots of pain and discomfort for your pet. Often, these health problems continue to worsen, even in the face of treatment. At what point do we intervene to prevent suffering? Every case is different, and it takes a lot of thought and discussion to make a decision. One suggestion is to make a simple chart with days listed like a calendar. Every day gets a smiley-face, a neutral-face, or a sad-face.
When we see lots more sad-faces than smiley-faces, then we know we are getting closer to the end. If you are uncertain, a visit with your veterinarian can lead to a discussion of possible options. In the end, this is a difficult time and the decisions are never easy. In the meantime, give your pets a hug and enjoy them while you have them.
Dr. Dick Hay is a veterinarian at TotalBond Veterinary Hospital at Davidson and has lived in Davidson since 1989 with his wife Pam, a retired Davidson College biology professor. They raised two wonderful children in Davidson, Sarah and Ben. Dr. Hay is a Davidson College graduate from the Class of 1977 and received his MS and DVM degrees from the University of Georgia. He is active in the community, having served on several nonprofits boards, including many years with the Davidson Housing Coalition.