Posted on February 5, 2017
How to Ensure You Are There Should Your Hospitalized Pet Pass Away
Wherever I’ve worked, with one exception, I’ve had the ability to ensure that my clients were allowed cage-side access pretty much 24/7 with their very sick pets (and I didn’t last very long at the job where this wasn’t an option). I wanted my clients there, particularly if I felt that these might be their beloved pets’ final days, hours, or minutes.
Despite my darned good intuition about the status of my patients, every once in awhile, one would pass away unexpectedly. I still hold grief about these animals, knowing they took their last breath in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. And, I held such sadness for their human companions. These folks were often plagued with guilt at having not been with their pets at the time of death. Having facilitated a pet loss support group for several years, I know that navigating through the grief process is often far more difficult for those who have lost their pets under such circumstances.
Jen, Louie, and Bruno
Jen is one of my regular readers. Her email provided me with the impetus to write about this topic:
Hi Dr. Kay,
I am not sure if you are able to help me or give me some guidance. I am not even sure if I am headed in the right direction with this but here it goes…
I had two English Bulldogs, Louie who lived to be 11 years old and Bruno who lived to 8 years old. They died this year 3 months apart.
Bruno was first. He died of sepsis caused by prostatitis. Louie died 3 months later from cardiac arrest after having a seizure during treatment for ventricular tachycardia. I feel that both dogs were sick and, in the end, would have died, but what bothers me the most is how I was unable to stay with them at the time they needed me the most.
I left Bruno in a cell in the hospital alone overnight for 12 hours where he slowly died due to his sepsis (despite all they were doing for him) and I wasn’t allowed to stay with him and be there to comfort him and let him know that I didn’t just abandon him.
I was with Louie when he died, but the doctor who admitted him was more concerned with the fact that I told her I was not leaving my dog than discussing a code status and a plan with me. Louie was intubated and had CPR done on him and I did not want that. I was in the next room and she could have sent someone to get me and ask me what I wanted done. If she had established this right at the beginning he wouldn’t have had to go through that.
So I am writing to you because I don’t know how I can help these animals that cannot speak and make their needs known, to be able to have their owners present during their hospitalization. I don’t know where to start and I have no idea if you can help me. If not, I understand, but thank you for listening to my story.
Ensuring you are with your pet
Jen’s story is pretty darned haunting, and it begs the question, what can one do to make sure that her story won’t become yours? Here are some pointers to ensure that you will be with your hospitalized pet when he or she passes away:
- Choose your veterinary hospital wisely. For help with this I encourage you read the chapter called “Finding Dr. Wonderful and Your Mutt’s Mayo Clinic” in Speaking for Spot. If hospitalization for your pet is necessary, look for a facility that provides round-the-clock care with constant monitoring, generous visiting hours, and a hospital policy dictating that you are to be called, any time day or night, the moment your pet’s condition declines.
- Have a heart-to-heart talk with your veterinarian about the seriousness of your pet’s condition. Does she think that it’s likely your pet could pass away while in the hospital? If so, what is her best guess as to when this might occur?
- Let the hospital staff know that you absolutely want to be contacted any time day or night should your pet’s condition take a turn for the worse. Emphasize how important this is to you.
- Provide the contact number for the phone that you will keep by your side, the phone that will be set to the loudest ring tone under your pillow while you are sleeping.
- Visit with your pet as much as your schedule and the hospital policy allow.
- Have a frank discussion with the veterinary staff about whether or not you would want your pet resuscitated (brought back to life) should he suddenly stop breathing or his heart stop beating. Unless you authorize DNR status (do not resuscitate), the staff will feel obligated to try to bring your pet back to life.
- If there is nothing more that can be done to reverse your pet’s terminal disease, and the quality of life has become vastly diminished, it is likely time to consider either euthanasia or home hospice care. Either way, you will be able to ensure that you are with your pet during this very important time.
When your pets passed away, were you able to be there?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.