Pet Talk: How To Prepare For Your Pet’s Death

For many of us, the connection we share with companion animals extends beyond just friendly company; our pets are considered a part of the family. The truly unique love between an owner and their pet is something one has to experience to understand. Although a pet may be a very loved and important family member, it is important to be sensitive and aware of your pet’s needs as they age.

Sometimes owners are faced with difficult decisions when their pet reaches an age or health condition that no longer allows them to enjoy daily activities. Dr. Sarah Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explains that euthanization is never an easy choice, but in some cases, it may be the best option for your pet.

“One of my professors in veterinary school told us that she tells clients to pick the pet’s three favorite things,” Griffin said. “When two out of three of those things are gone, it’s time to let them go. Many pets will continue to eat and drink even when they are in pain. Keeping a daily record of good vs. bad days sometimes helps you see the quality of life they are living.”

Some of the emotional struggles owners face when dealing with their pet’s death may be guilt and loneliness. An owner may have made the mistake of letting their pet outdoors to play with other animals, resulting in a fight or attack. Getting hit by a car is another danger owners face when letting their pets play outside. Some owners may even feel guilt for their pet’s death because they did not take them to the veterinarian after discovering symptoms of a potential disease or sickness. Whatever the case may be, many owners also suffer from loneliness after the loss of their pet.

“Pets are a part of our families. Recognizing the way you handle grief is important,” Griffin explained. “The first step in working through a pet’s death is acknowledging the way you feel. Share your feelings with close friends and family so they can support and encourage you.”

Griffin reminds pet owners who are suffering from a loss to remember their pet in a positive light. Keeping pictures on the shelves and other memorabilia of the pet can also help owners manage their emotions.

Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the CVM, reveals other ways that people cope with the loss of a pet. “Many people will rush to fill the void with another pet, while some people need more time to open their heart to another pet,” she said. “Volunteering at shelters or animal organizations can help people cope as well.”

Children can be especially affected by the loss of a pet. Sometimes parents struggle with giving their children an explanation of why Fido is no longer around to play. After recently experiencing the loss of Scooter, the family dachshund, Griffin recommends being patient with young children and encouraging them to express their feelings.

“We had a memorial service, shared memories about Scooter, and placed flowers over his grave,” she said. “We bought a book called I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm to help our daughter cope with the loss of Scooter.”

Eckman adds that communication is very important in helping children understand the loss of a pet.

“Be honest with your children—they may understand more than you think,” she said. “Explain in very broad terms, ‘Fido was very sick and could not do the things he really loved with you any longer.’ Give them space to grieve and an ear/shoulder to grieve on.”

Companion animals have a special talent for capturing our hearts and allowing us to experience a truly unique and unconditional love. No matter the circumstances, losing a pet is never easy. As an owner it is important to keep the health and well-being of your pet in mind when making decisions for the future.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed toeditor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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Tips for Combined Pet Owners: Introducing Cat to Dog & Vice Versa

By Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow

  1. Pick the Right Personality – Always consider the personalities of the animals you are bringing into the home. For example, if you have a dog who likes to chase, you will want a cat that doesn’t run away in fear or to be playful.
  2. For the first week or so, keep the dog and cat separated. You can switch between confining one to a certain room or area for a couple of days and then switch which one is confined. This will give them each time to get to know each other’s smells and become familiar with them.
  3. Don’t leave the animals together by themselves until everyone has settled into having new friends in the house. You want to be able to keep an eye on them, so lock them in separate areas when you are out of the house.
  4. Keep the dog on a leash so it can’t chase the cat and allow them to be in the same room together. Allow the dog to see the cat moving around and watch the dog to make sure it doesn’t try to chase the cat and that it isn’t too fixated on what the cat is doing. You can also feed the dog some treats when the cat is around to have them build up a positive association with the kitty.
  5. Practice obedience with your dog. You can then use obedience commands to help keep your dog calm and focused when the cat is around.
  6. Make sure the cat has a place to jump up to if they need to. You always want to make sure that your kitty has a safe place to get away from the dog in case they dog does start to chase them.

Fight Back Against Internal Parasites Too: Easy Ways to Protect Your Dog This Summer

Dr. Melissa Beall, DVM and PhD

Most pet owners know to look out for fleas and ticks. But as warmer weather arrives, a less obvious yet equally-damaging pet health hazard lurks: intestinal parasites. About 34 percent of shelter dogs and 12 percent of pet dogs in the United States have some form of intestinal parasite, with hookworms, roundworms and whipworms being some of the most frequent offenders. Not only are these parasites harmful to pets, but some are also zoonotic, meaning they can be passed from pets to their owners.

How and Where Parasites Strike

Parasites like hookworms, whipworms and roundworms infect the dog’s intestinal tract. Pets and people can become infected by swallowing parasite eggs or spores, which are be left behind in soil, sand, feces, food or any other surfaces where an infected pet has been. Because infected hookworm larvae living on contaminated surfaces can penetrate human and animal skin simply by touching it, people and pets can place themselves at risk simply by walking barefoot where infected pets have been.

The summer months tend to be the most severe since pets (and their owners) spend more time outdoors in yards, at parks and at the beach. Although intestinal parasites are found in all 50 states, hookworm is especially prevalent in the south and southeastern United States while roundworm is most frequently found in the Northeast and Midwest. Whipworm is most common in the Midwest and West.

Get Vigilant about Preventive Care

Taking preventive action to protect pets against these parasites is key to their longevity. Below are a few steps every pet owner can take to keep their pets and families healthy and parasite-free this summer and beyond.

  • Get your pet screened for intestinal parasites at least annually.

Since pets that contract parasites may be asymptomatic, bringing a fecal sample to the vet at least annually is the single-most important action a pet owner can take to get ahead of and treat the problem. The CDC, Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend fecal screenings two to four times a year during the first year of a dog’s life and one to two times per year in adult dogs.

  • Keep your pets’ environment clear of pet waste.

Since parasites eggs are found in pet stool and can infect pets and humans who come into contact with it, frequent cleaning decreases the possibilities for disease transmission. It takes a few days before the eggs in the stool become infective larvae so cleaning up after pets right away avoids the danger of infective larvae being left behind.

  • Deworm your pets according to your veterinarians’ recommendations.

The CDC, Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend at least annual fecal screening for pets. However, your vet knows best what the unique threats are in your area. His or her recommendation–often given during the annual check up—is likely more relevant for your community and best for your pet.

  • Keep your pets on monthly year-round parasite preventatives.

Dogs begin their lives with worms, which is why puppies require more frequent parasite screening and deworming. Your veterinarian will likely recommend monthly preventative heartworm medication for your puppy, which provides additional intestinal parasite protection though it doesn’t replace the need for at least annual fecal screening.

  • Wash your hands after any exposure to soil, sand and raw meat.

Washing your hands—and encouraging small children to do the same—is a critical best practice for protecting your family from any risk of cross-transmission.

  • Don’t let children eat dirt or food that has fallen on the ground.

The “three-second rule” doesn’t apply when you your children or pets visit public areas. You can’t see internal parasites, and you have no dependable way of knowing what happened in a particular location before you arrived. No one, especially children, should eat food that has fallen on the ground.