Thoughts on pain and suffering and what makes life worth living

Rudy on my shoulderWhen pet owners look for guidance on assessing their pet’s quality of life, they are usually clear on wanting to avoid pain. They are often less clear on what early signs of pain might look like. They may be able to recognize a change that indicates sudden or acute pain, but are less confidant in recognizing chronic pain. Indeed, signs of chronic pain can be subtle at first, and pet owners rightly fear missing the early signs and then witnessing their pet suffer as pain escalates.

One of the problems when trying to identify chronic pain is that our pets don’t initially cry out to let us know. They often try to “get on with getting on” the best way they know how. Vocalizing or crying out is rare with chronic pain until the pain becomes unbearable. Even low-grade moaning is a sign that things are already very bad indeed. However your pet’s behaviour is your window into your pet’s experience of their body and knowing if your pet is suffering with pain.

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What Happens at the End: Understanding Disease Trajectories

Szari on guardWhen your pet receives a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, or demonstrates signs that their life is winding down, good information can guide you to make good care decisions. A Quality-of-Life consultation can provide insight into your pet’s experience of their life, the things that still make life worthwhile, the things that add to their burden or make them vulnerable to suffering, and the options available to make them feel better. It can help you gain clarity about your priorities for caring for them, recognize and respond to their changing needs and make good choices.

An important part of being prepared to respond is an understanding of the disease process itself, and how things are likely to change over time. That is where an understanding of the disease trajectory can help.

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End of Life Decision Making: When is it time to say good bye to your pet?

Rama by . When is the right time to let go and choose to end the life of a dear companion? I believe that getting the timing right requires recognizing when having their life “end later” is no longer compatible with having their life “end well”. Then it is time to ensure that their life ends well.

Living is about so much more than just being alive. Your pet’s quality of life is about how they feel about their life. It is about the sum total of their physical, emotional, and social experiences, and about how these experiences impact their ability to engage in, and enjoy, living. It is about what matters to them. And although our pets may not have words to express how they feel about the quality of their life, or the value in a day, if we pay attention they can still tell us.

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Veterinary Aid-in-Dying

Veterinary aid-in-dying is the term I use to describe what we are doing when we offer a dying pet the gift of a gentle, supported death. Most people are familiar with the term “euthanasia” which does refer to providing a “good death”, however there is a distinction that I believe is worthy of note. “Euthanasia” is a broad term. It can equally apply to circumstances where a humane death is provided for animals who no one wants to care for, animals who otherwise would be healthy enough to live well. They receive a humane and gentle death, often with great care, but the death is not always in that individual animal’s best interests.

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The Circle

Life in the Circle is my take on sharing our lives and our love with animals.

I think of the expanding circle of human moral concern where animals are increasingly being recognized for the sentient beings they are, deserving of certain inalienable rights, starting with the Five Freedoms.

I think of an evocative phrase from poet Irving Townsend describing how those of us who choose to live with animals, knowing that their lives are all too short, “live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached”.

And I think of  “the circle of life“, and how there is comfort there for anyone who has loved and lost a dear friend.

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