My latest palliative care dog passed away about 2 weeks ago. While it has been a busy couple of weeks for me, I do think about her. I sometimes wonder if owners really believe me when I say that I think about their dogs not only when they are active clients but also after they have passed.
This old girl was 17 years old and came with a long file of veterinary records for me to review. From the outset, I knew I wouldn’t be working with her for very long. Her owner was very open when booking an appointment with me, “I’m just not ready to say goodbye.”
At the first consult, we talked about expectations, her vet’s advice, and quality of life. I provided the owner with a quality of life checklist that I’ve developed specifically for older and palliative care dogs.
This old girl had fighting spirit, but she was also frail. So the focus was on acupoints for immune system strengthening and endorphin release. The first session went well and the feedback was great – “she’s been her old self….”
Having personal experience with this, I know that sometimes these dogs at the end of life have a final burst of life energy. It rarely lasts.
We ended up having only one additional session. Although we re-booked for a third session, it wasn’t to be.
I am grateful to all the people who entrust their dog to me, but especially honored by those who are facing critical and emotional decisions and are not afraid to share their distress.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand
As our dogs age, we have to face the fact that they are likely to have special needs and health concerns that need following up on. In my massage and rehab practice, I see a lot of older dogs and most still enjoy life. Some need some help getting around, which may be having some ramps installed around the house or perhaps they need a wheelchair for getting outside.
The important thing about older dogs is creating a life for them that accommodates any limitations they have.
For owners, it is important to work with your healthcare team on what constitutes ‘quality of life.’ Some questions to consider in a quality of life assessment are:
- Is your dog eating and drinking normally?
- Is your dog ambulatory?
- Does your dog have normal elimination habits and are they continent?
- Does your dog interact with other people or animals in the household?
- Has your dog secluded itself in an area of the house on a regular basis?
- On balance, does your dog have more good days than bad?
Dogs often surprise us with their acceptance of physical limitations, but it is up to us to monitor their quality of life.
In humans, palliative care is provided to patients to help relieve symptoms of chronic or serious illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. This type of treatment includes pain relief but also stress relief to enhance quality of life.
Palliative care is also available for dogs and is a viable alternative to immediate euthanasia when the vet and the family feel that the dog still has quality of life and any pain can be managed.
As a canine massage and rehab practitioner, I get involved in palliative care cases. Some dogs are at the palliative care phase when I am called in. Others have been my clients for a while and their life situation has changed. Using acupressure, massage and/or low level laser, I’m able to help with pain management and give the dog a bit of TLC. I often play relaxing music for the dog to make the time even more special.
In my experience, palliative care can be a very positive, transitional phase for the family. It’s a time to say goodbye. If there are children in the household, parents are able to explain what will happen when a dog is put to sleep and the children learn to understand the vulnerabilities of a dog who is old or who is ill.
It will never be easy to say goodbye, but thanks to quality veterinary care and a greater understanding of pain management, more owners can opt for a palliative care phase for their dog – so they can enjoy as much time together as possible.