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End-of-Life Care for Pets

Arguably no aspect of pet ownership is more difficult to cope with than end-of-life care. Be it an elderly pet or one recently diagnosed with a terminal disease, pets are a part of the family no one wants to lose.

When a pet is nearing the end of its life, owners must make a difficult decision. Caring for a dying pet can be heartbreaking and might even be painful for the pet as well. If the pain a pet is experiencing is simply too much, then veterinarians will likely recommend euthanasia. The ASPCA offers the following tips to pet owners caring for a pet as it approaches the end of its life.

* Make the pet as comfortable as possible. Pet owners should make their pet's comfort a top priority as the pet nears the end of its life. This includes immediately addressing any medical issues that may arise or recur, as well as creating a warm and comfortable environment for the pet. Provide a well-cushioned and warm sleeping spot to avoid the development of pressure sores, which are common in pets with limited mobility. In addition, routinely check in with the pet to see if there is any wetness or soiling. Incontinence is common among older pets or even younger pets facing the end of their life.

* Determine quality of life. No pet owner wants to euthanize their pet. However, sometimes an older or sick pet's quality of life deteriorates so much that euthanasia should be discussed with a veterinarian. Before that discussion, pet owners can look for a handful of indicators to determine a pet's quality of life. Among the signs that might indicate a poor quality of life are irritability, restlessness, confusion, loss of appetite, excessive water consumption, seeking out unusual sleeping spots, and avoidance of favorite activities.

* Look for signs the pet is experiencing pain. Older or sick pets may or may not experience pain, but pet owners should be on the lookout anyway. When a pet is nearing the end of its life, it won't necessarily exhibit pain in the same way it has throughout its life. Typically, a healthy pet will whimper or cry when it is in pain. However, a pet approaching the end of its life will not always whimper or cry when it is in pain and might even continue eating and drinking as it normally would. When trying to determine if a pet is experiencing pain, look for the following signs:

- excessive panting or gasping for breath

- reclusiveness

- pickiness with food

- reluctance to move

If the pet has been diagnosed with a specific condition, ask the veterinarian for signs associated with that condition, as different conditions manifest themselves in different ways.

* Manage any pain in accordance to the veterinarian's advice. When a disease is diagnosed, a veterinarian will likely give pet owners a plan of action to help the pet. This may include advice on managing pain. A medication may or may not be prescribed, depending on any pre-existing conditions. Whatever the situation, pet owners should stick to the veterinarian's advice. Going off course could be harmful to the pet, and the goal is make its remaining days as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.

For more information on caring for sick or elderly pets, visit the ASPCA at www.aspca.org.