to Watch For
and Things You Can Do
age, they may
experience physical ailments that cause them to feel discomfort. They
may become frustrated with their own aging process. They might not hear
as well as in younger years, their sight may be impaired, they may feel
physically vulnerable when in the company of younger animals. They may
have aches that they did have before, and/or soreness in their joints
and muscles. Be patient with your pet's changing moods and gradual
decline. They may become grumpy sometimes--it's not their fault!
Animals change over
animals age, physical changes may be sudden or gradual. They will
experience good days and bad days. They may suffer ailments that will
heal on their own, given a day or two, and some which will require
veterinary intervention. You may observe drastic changes, or they may be
so subtle that they are hardly noticeable. The effects on the animal may
be profound, or so subtle that they draw no concern. The change may be a
one-time occurrence, or may reoccur over time.
When older animals sleep, they sleep more profoundly and may become more snappish if awakened out of a restful sleep. On the other hand, an older dog may pace at night, and be difficult to settle down! An orthopedic foam bed with a machine washable cover will be helpful for the occasional toileting accident.
pets feel the cold more intensely in the winter and suffer from heat
more in the summer than do younger animals.
- Four of the five senses diminish with age. Touch is the only sense that stays as acute over time.
Monitor your pet's weight. Extra pounds put added stress on an animal's joints. Check your pet over on a regular basis and keep your eyes open for tumors, lumps, discolorations, or bad breath, and report any changes to your vet.
Perhaps your pet’s
ailments cause you to react with impatience. This may be a time that
challenges you to develop patience with what is a natural process. The
humans who share their lives with these amazing animals may be motivated
to act immediately, when the correct course advises, “wait and see”.
Prepare to see changes. When
in doubt, collect all of your observations and tell them to your vet.
The more information that you can provide, in terms of observations and
medical records, the more readily they will be able to respond to your
Signs of deterioration:
Observe your pet
carefully. Look for signs of disorientation, glazed or dry eyes, disinterest in eating and drinking, lethargic behavior,
reluctance to get up and walk around, general listlessness.
Has your older dog become aggressive? - We have an older dog that was as kind as kind could be all of his life. As he aged, he started to bite at the other dogs and us! Of course we couldn't have that, and thought that we might have to have him euthanized. Our vet determined that the aggressiveness was the result of anxiety. He had grown older and was more fragile. He felt like the other dogs were a threat to him. We put him on Prozac ($8 per month) and his anxiety lessened. Now, on Prozac, he is back to his old self and we couldn't be happier.
Does your dog have "elephant skin"?- It's the rough skin on elbows and hips where the hair has worn away. This is typical of larger dogs and older dogs. Trick - rub Bag Balm into the area where the hair has worn away, every other day for a while. Our experience has been that the hair gradually starts to grow back. Once the hair has grown back, you may only have to rub the Bag Balm in once or twice a month. Watch the area and you will see the hair grow back and know how often you need to reapply it. Your dog will be much more comfortable with the hair on those pressure points.
Creating the environment:
animal who is dying may be feeling the
warmth and compassion of a caring human for the last time.
overload can exacerbate illness and behavioral issues. Animals are
highly sensitive. A chaotic environment creates stress and discord for
them. Work to create and maintain harmony among family members and
friends, especially those people in the animal's immediate environment.
Pets should be in calm
spaces, on their favorite beds, or in the final hours, on a linoleum surface where bedding can be placed under them as well as pads to absorb bodily fluids.
Animals that are sick or dying frequently have lower body temperature. A
warmer room or an extra blanket can help to increase their comfort
soft, diffuse, preferably natural lighting during the day and low
lighting in the evening. Avoid a dark environment.
For comfort, take your pet’s collar off. Keep other animals away from the immediate area. Offer gentle touching, massage (T-Touch), and petting.
Place your hand on the forehead using a gentle touch and keep it there,
or lightly brush the brow. This is similar to the 'laying on of hands'
that many traditions use with humans. Clearing your pet's energy field
can be accomplished by placing both of your hands approximately three
inches above the body. Move your hands in short, sweeping motions
downward, moving from the head to the back feet.
I like to stay with my pet in the final hours. In the evening hours, I sleep next to my pet in a sleeping bag on the floor.
Music and Sound:
Soft, low music may be
soothing. Pleasant, natural sounds can offer comfort. Singing
birds or running water can be a source of peaceful relaxation. Use music
that is soft and unobtrusive. Try
The Healer’s Way, Volume I: Soothing Music for Those in Pain by Stella Benson, certified music practitioner, composer and author. Another recommended CD is
Self-Healing with Sound and Music, a 2-CD set by Andrew Weil and Kimba
Cognitive deficiencies and arthritis:
Older animals sometimes have problems with mental clarity and movement. Again,
your veterinarian is in the best position to recommend medications that can help greatly in this area.
Has your older dog become aggressive?
We have an older dog that was
as kind as kind could be all of his life. As he aged, he started to bite
at the other dogs and us! Of course we couldn't have that, and thought
that we might have to have him euthanized. Our vet determined that the
aggressiveness was the result of anxiety. He had grown older and was
more fragile. He felt like the other dogs were a threat to him. We put
him on Prozac ($8 per month) and his anxiety lessened. Now, on Prozac,
he is back to his old self and we couldn't be happier.
Meeting nutritional needs:
drinking and similar functions may seem to become less important
to your pet. In a dying animal, the spirit is beginning to transition
and the physical body is aware of it.
Hill’s A/D diet is a liquid food that both cats and dogs can swallow even in their last hours.
Baby food mixed with a little water.
Turkey baby food is easily digested.
Soak and mash dry food. You may also want to put it in a blender to smooth the consistency even
further. Soaking some brands of dry food may take
45 minutes to an hour to become soft.
Pets may become very selective eaters when they age. This is certainly a problem in their last days. It may be necessary to cook for your pet at this time. Foods that may be hard to digest can be liquefied in a food processor or blender.
My philosophy: At the end of life, if your pet will agree to eat, feed them their favorite foods. Nutrition is important, but so are the “comfort foods”.
- If an animal is days or hours away from passing, it is normal for the animal not to experience the sensation of hunger. If you offer food, and the animal turns its head away, it may be that the mere smell of food is making it feel nauseous. Wait awhile and offer food again, to see if they will be more open to eating at that time. Wet food, or dry food that has been softened, may be more appealing, as will be food that is slightly heated.
If you typically feed your pet once a day, and you are finding that your pet is not eating at all, or is not eating all of their food, try splitting their daily meal into two portions and feed one portion in the morning and the other in the evening.
- Obesity is due to reduced activity, overfeeding, and a lower metabolic rate. Additional weight can stress the heart, exacerbate arthritis, resulting in an animal that is even less likely to exercise. Diet and exercise are the answers Moderate play will keep your pet’s muscles toned, blood circulating, and prevent constipation – a serious problem, especially in older cats.
- Give the animal Omega 3 and Omega 6 nutrient- rich foods or
supplements, to support the immune system.
Hill's Prescription Diet -
My animals hate the taste of this food and wouldn't eat it. How
many of us don't like eating food that is good for us? Simple
trick - if your dog doesn't like Hill's Prescription Diet foods,
add a few drops of honey and mix it in.
For cats, add clam juice. They will absolutely love it!
Standing to relieve themselves:
There are slings designed for helping your pet walk outside with your assistance. The slings go by the brand name “Quick Lift," “Soft Quick Lift." There are animal stretchers, “Quick Carry” and “Soft Quick Carry." “Quick” products can be ordered from the Four Flags Over Aspen company (see
Resources). The “Bottom’s up Leash” is also an option.
If your pet is able to
stand, have an easily accessible water bowl available and filled at all times.
Adequate hydration is a comfort measure as well as a physical need.
Animals that are sick or dying are often not aware of their need for
fluids, and their thirst signal may be less active. A well-hydrated
animal, no matter what their state of health, is more comfortable.
Keep your pet well hydrated, whether that is with a dropper filled with water, or with an intravenous drip. The intravenous drip can be administered at scheduled intervals by your vet, at their office. In many cases, however, your vet will sell you the necessary equipment and provide you with training so that you can administer the IV fluids yourself, at home, where your pet is the most comfortable. This may be the only practical solution for a pet that is gravely ill.
- Your pet may not want to drink. If you think that your animal has a hope of recovery, then hydrating the animal by giving fluids by mouth or under the skin may be an option. However, many animals in the process of dying will stop drinking water because being dehydrated can lower the pain threshold. Some animals may drink lukewarm water when they will refuse cold water. During hospice, you may have to support your pet’s head in an upright position in order for your pet to be able to drink. Once an animal has stopped drinking entirely, it may only be hours or days before your pet passes. This would be a time to stay with your pet, to support them in their last hours.
Pursue options for pain management and supportive medical care as advised by your veterinarian. The goal is to provide comfort as opposed to cure. Your veterinarian is the best person to help with the management of signs that indicate pain, side effects of the medical conditions, treatments and anticipated complications as the patient’s condition declines.
have used flower essences in conjunction with other therapies. Though I do not believe they are a replacement for veterinary medicine, they can make a remarkable impact on an animal’s health and well-being given the individual animal’s needs. Two sources for purchasing flower essences that I have found to be reliable are listed under “Resources,"
specifically, Bach Flower Essences and those sold by Green Hope Farm. I’ve used and love “Transitions” sold by Green Hope Farm, which is listed under their Animal Wellness Collection. I would also recommend “Coral Pink Rose."
Rescue Remedy (Bach Flower Essences) should always be kept on hand.
Essential Oils can be used in response to a variety of emotional, physical, and spiritual issues. I use Young Living Essential Oils (see
Because of their purity and concentration a little goes a long way! If an animal is weak or sick, there is an essential oil that correlates with the animals particular need at the moment. Go to their website for more specific information. Sandy Rakowitz of One Heart Healing Center offers classes on essential oils. You may want to look at her website
oils such as lavender and citrus can have a calming and peaceful effect.
Mix a few drops with distilled water in a spray bottle to spray into the
air, or diffuse with a cold-air diffuser made specially for
aromatherapy. Do not us perfume or perfume-grade oils--only
therapeutic-grade essential oils. To create a more spiritual environment,
use oils from ancient scripture such as frankincense or myrrh.
There are several medications available to address signs of incontinence. One that I have used, which was recommended by my veterinarian, is called Proin. There are others that may be more appropriate for your pet. Please consult your veterinarian to explore the options.
In addition, there are doggie “pants” (diapers) available through online catalogs and local pet stores. “Seasonals," “Pooch Pants,"
“Doggie Wraps," made for male and female animals. “Clean GO Pet” makes disposable doggy diapers. “Pooch Pads," “Oops Pads” absorb liquid and can be placed under your pet to avoid an accident in their favorite sleeping spot.
As some pets age, they will
“piddle” on their beds. This has happened in our home, particularly
when a senior animal goes into a deep sleep at night. I do not like foam
core bedding because it is typically difficult to clean. Other types of
bedding, tends to be bulky and will take up the entire washing machine
when laundered. My suggestion is to wrap the foam core, or other bedding
liner in 39 gallon plastic bags (if the bed is large, you may need two
one for each end. Allow them to overlap). Take duct tape and secure the
plastic bags by taping around the bags in the middle, top to bottom and
side to side.
put the cover of the bedding over the now secured plastic bags. Now, if
your pet piddles on their bed, you will only have to wash the outer
cover of their bedding. The plastic bags can be quickly wiped off with a
Pumpkin in a
can, the same pumpkin that is used for pie filling, can be added to the dog’s food (a heaping tablespoon for a large dog, less for a small dog) to add fiber.
also be added to your dog’s food to add fiber.
may also find that over-the-counter anti-diarrheals such as Immodium A-D
will be helpful - check with your veterinarian as to proper dosage.
can be offered to your pet in addition to water. Think of it as “doggy Gatorade”. It will replace electrolytes lost during the time your pet has loose stools.
There are Flower essences and essential oils that can offer support to your pet during these times.
There are T-Touch massages that can strengthen your pet’s immune system. Please look under resources to see the various T-Touch books available and select one that is appropriate for your pet.
Don’t forget to play healing music for your pet!
If your dog has a seizure you may observe the limbs becoming very
straight and rigid. The bones can become fragile during a seizure,
so be careful moving your animal companion. Rather, move objects
around your pet that might interfere with your pet's movements. It
helps to surround your pet with pillows or anything soft so the
animal does not injure themselves during a seizure. If the seizure
is severe, take your animal to a vet immediately after the seizure
has past. If the animal does not seem to be coming out of a seizure
in a relatively short period of time, take your pet to a vet, but
carefully wrap the animal in something soft and be careful not to
try to bend the animal's legs or body because of the potential for
hurting the animal further. Start a log of your animal's seizure,
even if the animal comes out of the seizure relatively quickly
without much after affect. Log the time of the seizure, length of
the seizure, and anything that you observe. This information will
help your vet address the seizure medically. Continue to maintain
the log, even if the seizures seem to occur quite a bit of time
apart. I have had dogs that had a seizure and didn't have another
(so far, knock on wood). Some dogs have seizures very
infrequently; still record all observations in a log, since they may
occur more frequently later in the animal's life.
Pill splitters and digital thermometers may also be helpful for the administration of medications and monitoring your pet’s temperature.
tool called a "pill popper,"
available through your veterinarian, will help in administering pills to
a cat that is reluctant to take them voluntarily.
If you put a
pill for your dog in a small ball of cat food, he or she will eat it readily.
Dogs love cat food!
liquid medicine should be administered in the side of the animal's
mouth. Consider using a 3cc or 5cc syringe. Give your dog water in the
liquids to a cat is more easily done from the front of the mouth.
- Some drugs and/or herbs may upset your pet’s stomach, if they are eating less, because some medications require that they be taken with food. Antobiotics and other drugs can actually cause the loss of appetite. Animals may become sensitive to side effects.
Other ways to soothe any discomfort that your pet may be experiencing are homeopathy, gentle body or energy work, warm towels and warm water bottles.
understand that not everyone believes in animal communication. Everyone’s belief system is different. However, in special circumstances, I have found the skills of an animal communicator to be quite useful in helping me understand the dying process from the perspective of my pet. They have also helped me understand the difference between a human’s experience and concept of death as different from an animal’s. I’ve listed the name of the animal communicator that I use under “Resources." There are others that may meet your needs. If you decide to pursue this option, do some exploration, make calls, and ask questions until you find someone that you feel comfortable working with.
This is a time to have the name and phone number of your vet readily available, as well as a 24 hour emergency veterinary service. Having work numbers posted somewhere prominent and easily visible in your home may be helpful should your pet go into crisis and another family member needs to be contacted immediately.
Geriatric cats have wasted away as their sense of smell waned. As a response, you can purchase more aromatic food or heat up their regular meal, thus releasing a stronger odor.
The immune system of older cats is less able to fend off illnesses.
Dehydration, a consequence of many diseases common to older cats, further diminishes blood circulation and immunity.
The skin of an older cat is thinner and less elastic, has reduced blood circulation, and is more prone to infection.
Kitty senility is evident in symptoms such as wandering, excessive meowing, apparent disorientation, and avoidance of social interaction.