Our beloved Great Dane, Ellie, is suffering from bone cancer. It is in her right front leg and, because she is now 8, our vet does not feel she would be able to withstand life on three legs. We are heartbroken there is nothing we can do. We are doing everything we can to keep her comfortable but are struggling with the ‘whys’ of this whole mess. Do you have any insight on coping with terminal illness in pets?
Mackenzie, Peoria IL
I am so sorry to hear of your situation. When it comes to our pets, few things are more tragic than seeing their lives cut short by a painful illness. I wish I could wave a magic wand to give you the understanding you seek, but the best I can do is share what I’ve felt in working with so many clients in similar circumstances.
First, I am sure Ellie is very much aware of your love for her and your efforts to keep her comfortable. The road ahead of you is not an easy one. She is depending on you to help her exit her body when the time comes, as most animals simply do not have it within their ability to cross on their own.
There are key things to watch for that will help you to know it’s time. First, if a terminally ill animal stops eating, it is most often because they can no longer utilize the nutrition. What I mean by that is some of the digestive systems may have begun shutting down with the disease or medications. When a pet can no longer digest food or keep it down, they will usually cease eating.
The ability to get up and down, for drinking, eating, or going potty is also a critical element. If Ellie cannot mobilize on her own, watch her eyes very closely (I explain in a moment).
Incontinence or loss of bowel control is also a deal-breaker for many animals; like humans, dogs, cats and other animals take pride in having control over their bodily functions. When they lose command over potty routines, many loose the will to live.
Finally, watch Ellie for signs the pain has increased to an intolerable level. For pets with such debilitating diseases like bone cancer, I recommend you keep a daily calendar rating her apparent pain level on a scale of one to ten. By rating her daily, you are better able to gauge when the level has reached the breaking point.
For most pets, daily pain levels at 8 or above, even with mediation, are intolerable.
As I mentioned earlier, watch Ellie’s eyes. Barring cognitive dysfunction or blindness, most animals will clearly show their will to live or be set free in their eyes. When the spark is gone and the brow is furrowed, hard as it is, you must take Ellie’s head in your hands and look deep in her eyes.
Ask her if she is ready to go. You will see a flash of expression—an answer—move over her face. It will likely move you to tears. When that happens, you know it’s time to call the veterinarian.
Transitions in life are painful more often than not. Your walk with Ellie during her final days is, I’m sure, a real heart-breaker. You are in good company. I find the most inspirational teachers are the ones who have experienced life at its worst and most painful. There is much truth to the statement that nothing makes you appreciate what you have more than having it taken away.
There are some tools to help you cope with the difficulties these times present. I make use of essential oils and flower essences when feeling particularly stressed. My favorites include Young Living Peace & Calming (great when I’m super nervous) and Bach Flower Essence Rescue Remedy. I also take valerian root if I’m having trouble sleeping at night (I tend to be a worrier).
Regular massages are also helpful in reducing stress, and Reiki treatments are a wonderful way to rebalance your energy fields. Both of these therapies are also wonderful aids for your pets.
Meditation, reading inspired works, and taking time to journal have all proven beneficial for me in working through difficult transitions. Then, of course, my favorite is prayer. I find that talking to my angels, guides and spirits, all part of the divine order; really help me feel like someone bigger is watching over me, helping me through these turbulent waters.
I never cease to be amazed at how I am provided for, guided to, and helped along. Saying “thank you” to these divine helpers is a practice I cultivate throughout my day.
Mary Clouse is an Animal Communicator and Consultant, and she is the author of several books. Email her your animal communication questions with “WVM Question” in the subject line. Contact – Website – Facebook – Twitter – LinkedIn – Books
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