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Guilt can confuse things even further. In an ideal world, we would all have enough money and time and the right floor plan and the physical strength sufficient to provide any level of home care needed. For some animals — for instance, my own cat — even administering oral medications is not possible. It’s not ideal, but it is real, and it is the reality of our individual situations that is the foundation for making reasoned decisions about what to do with a seriously ill or dying pet.
Subtle changes (weight loss, arthritis, increases in water drinking, etc.) can be so gradual as to be unnoticeable to us, since we are around our pets daily. Even significant declines in health may not be recognized by you — but may be by a caring friend or by your veterinarian. The observations of others can help us see the reality of a situation more clearly, especially when it comes to pain and loss of function. Be open to this input; resist the urge to block it out because it might be something painful you don’t want to hear. Listen to the assessment of your veterinary team or friend, and weigh what you’re seeing with the information you’re being given. Two of the most common quality-of-life issues that clients often struggle to recognize in their pets are pain and nausea. Your veterinarian can help you more fully understand what is going on with your pet.
Medicine is all about teamwork. Establishing relationships of trust and understanding with your veterinary medical team can help you feel more comfortable with the advice that is being given. It is important that you understand all of the factors that influence a recommendation from your veterinarian.
Part of letting go is recognizing what it is we stand to lose. There are, of course, physical benefits of pet ownership. And maybe, more important, our pets seem to provide many things we, as humans, crave yet are not able to provide to one another: unconditional acceptance and love, unwavering support and unqualified appreciation for who we are. Losing this type of love and connection can be the worst loss some will ever experience. Take time to honor the unique relationship that you will be losing.
At times, the last, best gift of love we can offer our beloved animal companions is release from torment. If your primary focus is truly your pet and their comfort, and your decision is made from a heart of love, you will make the right choice.
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