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How to Remain With Your Hospitalized Pet at Death

by Nancy Kay, DVM

I’ve been able to ensure my clients had cage-side access—pretty much 24/7—with their very sick hospitalized pets at nearly every place veterinary facility where I’ve worked.

I didn’t last long at the one place where this wasn’t an option. I wanted my clients there with their pets, particularly if I felt a beloved pet’s final days, hours, or minutes were near.

In spite of my darned good intuition about my patients’ status, every once in awhile, one would pass away unexpectedly. I still grieve about these animals, knowing they took their last breaths in a strange place, surrounded by strangers.

I felt so sad for their human companions. These folks were often plagued with guilt for not having been with their pets at the time of death. I have facilitated a pet loss support group for several years and know that navigating through the grief process is often far more difficult for those who were not with their pets at the time of death.

Owners Need Access to Hospitalized Pets Nearing Death

Jen is one of my regular readers. Her email below prompted me 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. They died this year, three months apart.

Bruno was first. He had sepsis caused by prostatitis. Louie died three 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, they 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, in spite of all they were doing for him. 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 when she wanted to discuss a code status and a plan with me. Louie was intubated and had CPR done on him, which I did not want. I was in the next room. She could have sent someone to get me and ask me what I wanted done.

If she had established this right at the beginning Louie 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, and 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 you can’t, I understand, but thank you for listening to my story.

Jen

You Can Ensure You’ll Be With Your Dying Pet

Jen’s story is pretty darned haunting. It begs these question: what can other readers do to make sure her story doesn’t become their realities, too?

When your pets passed away, were you able to be with them?

Here are some pointers to ensure that you will be with your hospitalized pet when he or she passes away:

  1. Choose your veterinary hospital wisely. For help with this I encourage you read the chapter 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 at any time day or night the moment your pet’s condition declines.
  2. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your veterinarian about the seriousness of your pet’s condition. Does s/he think that it’s likely your pet could pass away while in the hospital? If so, what is the best guess as to when this might occur?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Visit with your pet as much as your schedule and the hospital policy allow.
  6. 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 (do not resuscitate) status, the staff will feel obligated to try to bring your pet back to life.
  7. When 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.

 

More owners choose home euthanasia for their dying pets.

Euthanasia at home is an option for dying pets.

 

This blog was originally posted at the Speaking for Spot blog, where you can leave your thoughts and comments.

 

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