Quality of life is the most important aspect of canine end-of-life care, say experts

The question of what to do with our senior dogs in their final days is a heartbreaking one, and experts suggest focusing on their quality of life.

As puppies and young dogs grow into canine adults, they are adorable and challenging, but living with and loving an older dog is also challenging emotionally. As a result of more research and technology, veterinarians say America’s 70 million dogs are living longer on average.

It’s a good thing for those who love their furry family members and think that a dog’s only fault is his too-short lifespan. Sadly, like everything good, they come to an end, leaving pet owners unsure of how to handle their dog’s final days.

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Many pet owners are aggressive in doing whatever is necessary to extend our pets’ lives and keep them close to us. There’s a very rare tumor in the bone of the back leg of our 11-year-old golden retriever, and we need regular pain medicine and vet visits to see if it’s time to make tough decisions.

The assistant professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University, Dr. Alicia Karas, suggests a more holistic approach to end-of-life care for older dogs. It has been said that we sometimes pay more attention to the obvious problem or the x-ray results than to what an animal’s countenance and behavior are like in the exam room.

The common old-age ailments humans suffer from may be similar to those in dogs, including arthritis and cancer, but veterinarians sometimes must look beyond certain drugs to treat other ailments that could cause complications. Typically, my dog would receive steroids, but since she also has Cushing’s Disease, she cannot take them. For reasons like these, Dr. Karas suggests other options than traditional pharmaceuticals for senior dogs, including massage, physical therapy, and therapeutic ultrasound.

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Dr. Stephen Steep offers his clients a selection of treatment plans that include less aggressive methods to ensure their dog has the best quality of life possible during his or her remaining days. To him, a dog’s comfort is the most important thing, and he explains to his clients that dogs’ aging is not necessarily a disease, just a part of life. Despite their inability to let go of their dog when it’s time, he reminds them that ultimately a pet’s comfort is what matters most.

Steep gently inquires about a dog’s appetite, sleep patterns, and whether he is still walking normally. According to him, most pet parents realize that the end is near and the best thing to do is to let go. When Dixie has difficulty doing two of three things she enjoys doing, we should put her comfort and needs above the pain in our hearts, according to our vet.

We dread that day, but we also agree with the experts that her quality of life matters more than her physical presence, and that loving her means knowing when to let her go.

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