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End of Life Care for Companion Animals

Dogs require daily socialization, exercise, and shelter to live happy lives.

When a companion animal reaches the end of life, it is up to his or her human guardian to determine how to best serve the animal up to the moment of death. Sometimes, an animal’s passing can seem to come quickly. Other times, owners may notice a gradual decline in the health and activity of their companion. Even when a medical condition cannot be treated, as an animal approaches the end of life, human companions can take some steps to help animals get the most out of their final days.

Take the following actions to care for your companion during the end of life.

  • Continue to take your animal to the veterinarian. If your companion animal has received a terminal health diagnosis, consider obtaining a second opinion.
  • Offer your companion animal extra padding, and in cool weather, heated pads to rest on.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about palliative care, including pain management.
  • If you have hardwood or laminate flooring, add rugs or runners to areas where your animal most often walks. Slippery floors can be distressing to older animals who can easily lose their footing.
  • Animals in pain and those losing acuity of senses such as sight, may become frightened at noises that did not disturb them earlier in life. Talk to your companion in calm, soothing voices, and do not be taken aback if your older animal snaps unexpectedly.
  • Your animal may lose control of bodily functions as he or she ages. Use puppy pads and change bedding frequently.
  • The decision of whether or not to elect euthanasia is never an easy decision. When an animal appears to be suffering, is no longer enjoying once-savored activities or eating, and experiences more “bad days” than good ones, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia.
  • “Euthanasia” means “good death.” True euthanasia is not “the easy way out” as a means of ridding ourselves of an animal who has become old and reliant on special care. In reality, giving our companion a good death is our last gift to our companions.
  • During euthanasia, it is helpful for the owner to be present during the procedure to comfort the animal in his or her final moments.
  • Ask your veterinarian about his or her procedure for euthanasia. To maximize an animal’s comfort level, many veterinarians administer a sequence of drugs (via IV or injection) to first anesthetize the animal before administering the actual euthanasia drug.
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