Helping Children Cope with Pet Loss

For a downloadable resource on helping kids grieve the loss of a pet, click here: HelpingChildrenCopeFactSheet

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Do We Always Recommend Euthanasia?

 

MN Pets MaxYour pet is a beloved member of your family; he or she shares your home, your daily routine, and maybe even your bed. As our pets age or become ill, it can be difficult to assess their quality of life and to know when it is time to say goodbye. Deciding to euthanize a cherished pet is never easy, and when you only make the decision a few times in your life (if you’re lucky) it can be hard to keep a sense of objectivity about knowing if and when the time is right.

At MN Pets, we take very seriously our role in helping you objectively think about what is best for your family, for your pet, and for you. The veterinarians and counselors in our practice see many pets and hear many stories about when the end of life is near. We take the time to listen to your unique story about what has been going on with your pet, and we talk about what it all means and what your options are.

Sometimes, at the end of our conversation, it becomes clear that euthanasia is not the right choice at that time. It may not be far off, but the decision doesn’t feel right just then, and that’s perfectly ok. For these pets, one option is to enroll in our Comfort Care program. Our Comfort Care team can come to your home to evaluate your pet’s condition and help you develop a plan to help your pet enjoy the best quality of life possible as he or she deals with chronic conditions. Our focus isn’t on invasive diagnostic testing or aggressive medical care, but rather on helping your pet experience comfort and relief of symptoms that may reduce their quality of life. We keep in close contact with you and schedule regular check-ins to manage your pet’s condition as he or she ages.

Other pets that are aging or facing a serious medical condition may already be experiencing a severe decline in their quality of life. For these pets, the decision to euthanize may be appropriate, but it can be difficult to know when the time is right. Sometimes it is helpful to be able to talk through the decision and your unique situation with a veterinarian face to face. During a quality of life consultation, a veterinarian will visit your home to do just that. Sometimes, these visits conclude with euthanasia, and sometimes the doctor will leave you with valuable tools to monitor your pet’s quality of life in the coming days and weeks.

Finally, sometimes it becomes clear during our conversation that euthanasia is the right choice. You love your pet and know more about him or her than anyone else does. When you decide that the time is right, we will always support you in this painful and difficult decision.

Regardless of your situation, we are here to help you every step of the way. Please don’t hesitate to check in and get an expert’s advice on what seems right in your situation.  The call is free and we’re available every day, including weekends.  You can reach us at (612) 354-8500.

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Hyperthyroid Disease in Cats

As your cat ages, there are many age-related ailments that may develop throughout their later years. Hyperthyroidism, or hyperthyroid disease, is one of the more common glandular disorders for cats in the middle to senior age range. Cats with a hyperthyroid condition may have minimal to no side effects during the early stages of the disease and that is one of the reasons your veterinarian may recommend annual blood work. Some signs of the disease, however, may be noticed at home before any true diagnosis is made. Typically, cats will display one or more of these clinical signs:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased activity and restlessness
  • A matted, greasy or poor hair coat
  • A fast heart rate
  • Increased water consumption; also, increased urination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Catching any disease in its earlier stages is always best and will afford you the most options for treatment, and luckily hyperthyroidism in cats is one of the most treatable diseases a cat can have.  There are several options for treatment of hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Oral medication
  • Radioactive I131 treatment
  • Prescription diet
  • Surgery if applicable

Treating hyperthyroid disease is always recommended, because if left untreated long term, your cat can develop all the clinic signs listed above, heart problems, and an over-all feeling of being uncomfortable/ feeling ill.  Once your pet reaches middle age, it is important to get routine lab work, including checking their thyroid function. Once diagnosed, our Comfort Care doctors can help you manage your cat’s hyperthyroid disease and keep them as comfortable as possible at home.

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What life is like now.

Long road at sunset.

When your pet dies, everything changes. Your morning routine, your shopping lists, the space in your bed. The void that creeps into your life and the hole you can’t seem to fill in your heart is your new normal. When will it get better? Will it get better? How can I ever bring another pet into my life? Could I have done something more? These are all normal and common thoughts. The answers, however, can be hard to find. It will get better, but I am not sure when. You may not be ready for another pet, and that’s okay. If you are ready, you are not replacing your beloved lost dog or cat. The hole they left in your heart will not be fully filled by another furry friend, but rather healed a bit-the edges of that hole will be a little less torn and jagged. Take your time and grieve, cry, yell.

Reach out for support.

You are not alone.

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Do pets grieve the loss of their animal friends?

 

DaisyDo pets grieve the loss of their animal friends?

Owners of multiple pets know that these furry “siblings” share a special bond with one another. They romp around the backyard and snuggle up together on the couch, but do they grieve for another? It’s an important question when you are considering how the death of a beloved pet will impact your family and how best to support not only your human, but your animal family members.

We recently spoke with a client whose family had two dogs.  Sadly, when one of their beloved dogs had to be euthanized in a clinic, the other dog seemed to experience a profound grief.  In fact, this client reported that her dog was forever altered from the experience of losing her friend and simply was different from that point on.  The two dogs had their toys in a basket and part of their “after work” routine was to go outside, have supper, and play with their toys together.  “She didn’t play with her toys for two years after the death of (her friend),” her person reported.  Now her friends’ ashes are buried in the yard, and when she is out there, she lays on his gravesite.  When it came time to euthanize another one of her dogs, this client decided on in-home euthanasia because she felt that it was important for her dogs to know, firsthand, what had happened to their beloved friend.

Although animal emotions are challenging to study, some evidence shows that humans aren’t the only creatures to grieve the passing of a loved one. Mark Bekoff, former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, cites examples of animals displaying grief in the wild while mourning lost companions. He explains that, “categorically denying emotions to animals because they cannot be studied directly does not constitute a reasonable argument against their existence…current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief – we are not alone.”

Some animal behaviorists report working with pets in their practices whose animal companions have died and whom appear to be grieving that loss.  Those pets sometimes manifest their grief in the following ways:  decreased appetite, changes in activity (increase or decrease), increased soliciting of attention from their family, separation anxiety, increased vocalization, and increased sensitivity to noises.

One of the positive aspects about having a pet euthanized at home is that their animal friends can be with them.  Sometimes, when a pet is euthanized in a clinic setting, it can be confusing for their animal family members, who may not understand what has happened to their loved one.  Your pets have their own individual personalities and sensitivities, and you know them better than anyone else – it is up to you to determine how much to include your furry family members in a euthanasia appointment.  Sometimes it is helpful to animal companions to have a moment to visit with their friends’ body – they have their own way of sensing what has happened to their friend and their own way of saying goodbye. The grieving process is very personal, and each pet may grieve the loss of their companion differently, just like each person grieves differently. It’s ok for your pet to act differently for a while after the loss of their companion. Keeping to normal routines, such as walks, playtime, and meal times, is a good way of supporting grieving pets. Some pets may also appreciate extra cuddles and one-on-one time after a loss…and you may appreciate that too as you support one another through the grieving process.

For further reading:

Do animals mourn: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/do-animals-mourn

Mark Bekoff writes a blog for psychology today called “grief in animals”: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/200910/grief-in-animals-its-arrogant-think-were-the-only-animals-who-mourn?page=2

Posted in Children and families, End-of-life decisions, Grieving the loss of a pet | 3 Comments

MN Pets Service Area

 MN Pets Service Area

MN Pets service area

MN Pets’service area includes most of the outlying suburbs and the extended parts of the seven county Twin Cities communities.  Our doctors also travel to much of western WI.

This map is an overview of our service regions and will give you an idea if we visit your neighborhood.  Each color represents a different travel price.  If your community is outside this region, contact us to discuss your options. To access an interactive map, please click here.

Please give us a call if you have any questions about service in your area.  Our support staff can be reached at 612-354-8500 Mon-Fri 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM and on Saturday and Sunday 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

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‘Heart-work’ of the Holidays

MN Pets heartwork of the holidays

The holidays inevitably call us to the ‘heart-work’ of our relationships. This is particularly so in the instance of relationships where our intimate other has died, including our beloved animal family members. Grief associated with the loss of an animal is often described as “disenfranchised grief”, meaning it is not entirely understood, supported, or accepted by our human companions or communities. This makes the strenuous grieving process over the loss of a beloved animal an even more daunting process than it already is. Allowing the grief we feel some room, time and attention is an important gift to give ourselves, our families and our animals.

Honoring Our Departed Beloved
There are as many ways of honoring our departed animals as there are people. Grieving is a formidable task and it is normal to want to avoid the pain of it. In general people do this by keeping busy. The simplest way to remember your animal is to simply take a moment from the speed of life to allow that heart connection to be. Give thanks privately. One of the things I have found very helpful is to take some time out to sit quietly for a moment with the intention of welcoming the memory of your dear one into your mind’s eye, offering that memory some space, time and attention.

Often what happens from taking that time out is that your imagination and creativity bring ideas for how to remember your pet in other ways, or how to include others.  Here are a few ideas.

Telling the Story
Invite friends and family members to share their stories of the pet you all loved.  Our lives with animals are filled with routines. Often there is a well-worn path where you went for walks with your dog or a favorite radiator or window sill where your cat loved to nap. Revisiting these places provides an opportunity to recall and verbalize memories of your animal. Remember that tears are okay.  Tears are our healing waters and they restore flow when we are stuck.  They also release powerful endorphins which actually can make us feel better!  Telling our stories is healing.

Make an Offering
It is traditional to create a special place to make an offering in memory of a deceased loved one. Our family has Christmas stockings for our animals which we put up with the rest of the family’s. Sadly, our beloved Tex died several years ago.  That Christmas it seemed natural to put her stocking up. What surprised us was when family and friends gathered on Christmas day,  folks spontaneously used the stocking to make offerings of treats, toys (a small wadded up ball of tin foil and the twist off cap of a bottle of sparkling water… both Tex favorites), and even small notes. The stocking provided a focus for people to privately sift through personal memories and then choose an object that represented it.

One could take that idea in a variety of directions. It could be as simple as looking through photographs and choosing one to display and lighting a votive candle next to it in remembrance, or collecting some craft materials in a place where family members could make a memorial ornament.

Giving… Generosity is the Ornament of the World
A traditional gesture is to make a holiday donation to an animal charity organization in your pet’s name. Perhaps your pet’s veterinarian has a companion animal fund that was established to help less financially fortunate families afford veterinary care for an ailing pet. Of course, your local animal shelter will always put your donation to good use. Or you could create a small cozy quilt to donate to a shelter for use in keeping animals without homes comfortable.

Grief and Children
Children are highly sensitive people.  They can sense when something is amiss… they know when you are sad. It is important for children to be included in memorializing pets.  Children do very well with simple, honest language about death. Frequently children have lingering and mistaken impressions of death, especially if language like “put down” or “put to sleep” were used to describe a death or euthanasia. Memorialization sometimes brings up these misconceptions and it can be an opportunity to bring more clarity to the subject.

As daunting as it may feel to allow the process of grieving into our holiday there is always a gift in doing it… mostly through connecting us with our hearts which is often one of the most important things our beloved animal friends taught us to do.

Posted in Holidays | 5 Comments

Coping With Grief During the Holidays

MN Pets

For most people, the holidays are a time spent with our loved ones, celebrating our relationships and togetherness. When you have lost a family member, including a beloved pet, the holidays can magnify your sense of grief and loss as you realize that your loved one can no longer celebrate with you. Grief associated with the loss of an animal is often described as “disenfranchised grief”, meaning it is not entirely understood, supported, or accepted by our human companions or communities. This makes the strenuous grieving process over the loss of a beloved animal an even more daunting process than it already is. Allowing the grief we feel some time and attention is an important gift to give ourselves, our families, and our animals during this time of year.

Take time to grieve
Grieving is a formidable task, and it is normal to want to avoid the pain of it. In general people do this by keeping busy, which is easy to do during the holidays. Remember that you don’t have to attend every celebration or accomplish every task on your holiday to do list. The simplest way to remember your pet is to simply take a moment from the speed of life, sit quietly, remember your time together, and give yourself permission to grieve. Often what happens from taking that time out is that your imagination and creativity bring ideas for how to remember your pet in other ways, or how to include others in this process.  Here are a few ideas:

 

Telling the Story
Invite friends and family members to share their stories of the pet you all loved.  Our lives with animals are filled with routines. Often there is a well-worn path where you went for walks with your dog or a favorite radiator or window sill where your cat loved to nap. Revisiting these places provides an opportunity to recall and verbalize memories of your animal. Remember that crying is a natural outlet of grief and that tears are okay. Telling our stories and revisiting our best memories can be healing.

 

Make an Offering
It is traditional to create a special place to make an offering in memory of a deceased loved one. Our family has Christmas stockings for our animals which we put up with the rest of the family’s. Sadly, our beloved Tex died several years ago.  That Christmas it seemed natural to put her stocking up. What surprised us was when family and friends gathered on Christmas day, folks spontaneously used the stocking to make offerings of treats, toys (a small wadded up ball of tin foil and the twist off cap of a bottle of sparkling water… both Tex favorites), and even small notes. The stocking provided a focus for people to privately sift through personal memories and then choose an object that represented their relationship with Tex.

One could take that idea in a variety of directions. It could be as simple as looking through photographs and choosing one to display and lighting a votive candle next to it in remembrance or collecting some craft materials in a place where family members could make a memorial ornament.

Give to a local charity
A traditional gesture is to make a holiday donation to an animal charity organization in your pet’s name. Perhaps your pet’s veterinarian has a companion animal fund that was established to help less financially fortunate families afford veterinary care for an ailing pet. Of course, your local animal shelter will always put your donation to good use. Or you could create a small cozy quilt to donate to a shelter for use in keeping animals without homes comfortable.

 

Grief and Children
Children are highly sensitive people.  They can sense when something is amiss, and they know when you are sad. It is important for children to be included in memorializing pets.  Children do very well with simple, honest language about death. Frequently children have lingering and mistaken impressions of death, especially if language like “put down” or “put to sleep” were used to describe a death or euthanasia. Memorialization sometimes brings up these misconceptions and it can be an opportunity to bring more clarity to the subject.

 

As daunting as it may feel to allow the process of grieving into our holiday, doing so is a gift to yourself and your family members. Always remember that you are not alone, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling with grief during this time of year. Our counselors at MN Pets are available if you need someone to talk to and can be reached at 612-354-8500. There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays after losing a beloved pet; give yourself space to grieve and celebrate the unconditional love our pets give us.

Posted in Holidays, Memorializing a pet | 2 Comments

Leaky Plumbing: Dealing with Incontinence in Dogs and Cats

MN Pets

Brewer

By Katie Anderson

Incontinence can be one of the most frustrating conditions that pet owners face. Many elderly, once house-broken dogs and cats develop some form of incontinence, from leaking a small amount of urine when they sleep to being completely unable to control the release of all urine or feces. Although stepping in a wet puddle or seeing urine drip are the most obvious signs of incontinence, owners may also notice their pet excessively licking the vulva or penis area. Pet parents may also notice small wet spots or an offensive smell to their pet’s bedding after it becomes contaminated with urine.

A number of different conditions can lead to incontinence in elderly pets. Your veterinarian can diagnose the cause of urinary incontinence with a physical exam and a few basic tests. He or she will likely perform a urinalysis to look for a bacterial infection or the presence of bladder stones. X-rays of the urinary tract can also diagnose any abnormalities in your dog’s plumbing system. Finally, a number of different blood tests can be run to look for underlying diseases and kidney damage. Depending on the cause of your dog’s incontinence, different treatments can be used to manage this condition.

Here are some of the more common causes and treatments of incontinence:

  • Hormone responsive urinary incontinence: this is a disease of neutered and spayed dogs, particularly females, caused by a lack of sex hormones. The muscles that hold urine in the bladder become progressively weaker over time, leading to urine leakage, particularly when the pet is sleeping or lying down. Most dogs with this type of incontinence respond well to medications which tighten sphincter muscles, such as phenylpropanolamine (PPA) or diethylstilbestrol (an estrogen product). For dogs that do not respond to medication, surgical options include collagen injections into the sphincter muscles or placing a constricting ring at the site of the sphincter.
  • Overflow urinary incontinence: A number of diseases and medications can cause increased thirst in elderly pets, and the more water your pet consumes, the more urine is produced. This means that your pet’s bladder becomes maximally distended, especially at night when your pet spends long hours sleeping. Bladder distension can override the sphincter muscles and lead to urine leakage. Common causes of increased thirst include kidney and liver dysfunction and endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s, Addison’s, and diabetes. By identifying and treating the underlying cause of your pet’s thirst, you can often correct the incontinence. If your pet seems to be drinking more water, asking to go outside more frequently, or producing large volumes of urine in the litter box, see your veterinarian for further testing. Even if your pet is drinking more water, you should NEVER limit your pet’s water intake, as this can lead to serious complications in pets with any of the above diseases.
  • Neurological diseases: Diseases within the brain or spinal cord can interfere with the signals needed to control normal urination and defecation. Pets with neurological disease often display other symptoms, such as hind leg weakness or tremors. Therapy for this type of incontinence depends on the underlying disease.
  • Sphincter abnormalities: Defects in the urethral or colonic sphincters can cause either urinary or fecal incontinence in pets. These abnormalities may include bladder/urethral stones, prostate gland disease, tumors, or infection/abscess of the anal glands. Again, therapy for this type of incontinence depends on the underlying disease.
  • Senility: Some elderly pets simply become unaware that they are dribbling urine or forget their housetraining. Unfortunately there is no treatment or cure for this condition, and our focus turns to managing incontinence at home.

Although incontinence can be distressing for both owners and pets, it can be managed at home through a number of different strategies. These include:

  • Pet diapers or belly bands: these can be purchased at pet stores, or you can make your own belly band using fabric, Velcro closures, and sanitary pads. When using diapers or belly bands, be sure to change them regularly and keep your pet’s skin as clean as possible using soap and water or Baby wipes. If your pet’s skin becomes irritated, aloe vera gel or Preparation H can be used to soothe the area. Always use non-toxic products as your pet may lick them off and never use any products containing zinc, such as diaper rash ointments.
  • Waterproof pads or beds can be used to protect your pet’s sleeping spot. Remember to change or launder soiled blankets or towels frequently.
  • Frequent walks or trips outside, especially after sleeping, can help dogs with overflow incontinence. For cats, ensure that the litter box is in an easily accessible location, close to where your pet sleeps.

In many elderly pets, incontinence can be a sign of underlying disease or discomfort, so it’s important to consult your veterinarian and pursue diagnostic testing. Once any underlying diseases have been ruled out, a consult with a MN Pets Comfort Care veterinarian can help you identify ways to cope with your pet’s incontinence.

 

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What to Expect During the Euthanasia Appointment

 We often hear questions about what to expect during a home euthanasia appointment. It can be helpful to know how this appointment may be different than visits you have made to the veterinary office with a pet at the end of life. After several years of working with pets and families, we have a good idea of what works best to bring comfort to the pet and people who are present in the home. Following is a general description of what you can expect during the appointment.  Within this framework, we welcome special arrangements such as prayer, silence, music, poetry or anything that brings you comfort.

Appointment process

After arriving at your home, our veterinarian will want to meet your pet and spend a few minutes discussing their condition. We administer a small sedative injection to help relieve pain and discomfort, as well as to help your pet relax. After about 5-15 minutes,  your pet will be comfortable and very relaxed and sleepy.  At that time the doctor will administer the second injection into a vein to help your pet pass away.  The medication first brings about complete unconsciousness, then the heart will slow and stop. This usually occurs within a few minutes or so. As far as we are able to determine, the pet does not experience discomfort with this second injection. They are very sleepy and seem unaware of what is happening.  Following this medication, our doctor will very carefully listen for heart sounds with a stethoscope to confirm that your pet has passed away. We will be happy to make a paw print impression in clay if you wish to have one. All together we plan 45-60 minutes for the appointment.

Setting

Any room in your home is usually fine for the appointment.  We often visit pets who are most comfortable on their bed or on the sofa.  The floor is also good for some dogs.  Our doctors are comfortable working anywhere there is space to gather around the pet.  It is wonderful to be outside when the weather cooperates.

Cleanliness

Our doctors bring everything needed to keep the area clean and dry.  There is no need to prepare anything special in your home.

Dehydration

We are experienced and comfortable working with elderly pets, many of whom may be experiencing dehydration. Our doctors are comfortable administering medications under these circumstances and are equipped to handle situations that occasionally arise where a vein is difficult to access.

Eating

Your pet can follow a regular routine for eating and drinking on the day of the appointment. They may also take any medications as needed for pain, for example.  We recommend avoiding a heavy meal or a large number of treats just prior to the appointment, to help avoid upset stomach after the sedative has been administered.  It is a good idea to save some of your best dog treats for when the doctor arrives so administering the sedative is a little less noticeable for your dog.  Treats are a wonderful distraction.

Transport

We take great care in making sure your pet is handled with care and dignity after death. If our doctor is arranging cremation services, your pet will be comfortably transported in a blanket with the possible additional use of a bin or stretcher for added security in the vehicle. For pets over 40 pounds, our doctor will need assistance from one other person to help carry your pet to their vehicle.

Unusual Circumstances

Variations from the usual process aren’t uncommon.  Most often this is due to the pet’s disease or body condition, or the way the pet’s body responds to the medications given. Our doctors occasionally make a decision to vary their plan slightly, both to ensure the best experience for you and the most peaceful and comfortable experience for your pet. Our training and years of experience with helping pets at the end of life helps us to know what’s best to do in any situation to help the process proceed smoothly.  If you have questions about something that is happening at any moment, don’t hesitate to ask the doctor to explain. Our goal is to keep everyone informed as much as they would like to be throughout our visit.

Questions or Requests

If you have any questions about this information or something we haven’t addressed, feel free to contact our support team at (612) 354-8500 or speak with the doctor during the appointment.

For more information about the medications used during our visit, read Medications We Use.

Posted in End-of-life decisions, Preparing for your pet's appointment | 2 Comments