I received a beautiful thank you note last week from pet owners who wanted me to know how much they appreciated the extra time they had with their pet, because they opted for alternative therapy rather than immediate euthanasia upon discovering their pet had cancer.
This past winter, a dog named Hailey came to my clinic. She had been diagnosed with extensive liver adenocarcinoma, which had metastasized to her lungs. The oncologist who made the diagnosis said she had a few days to weeks before she would die from loss of lung capacity or rupture of the liver tumors.
Her owners, a young widow and her son, were not ready to let go. The dog had been the husband’s pet and Hailey was one of his greatest joys. Her loss would bring another emotional blow to the family who was still grieving his untimely passing.
They asked me to provide acupuncture, alternative and hospice care to keep Hailey comfortable, until Hailey would either pass away on her own, or they could come to terms with having her humanely euthanized.
Many of their friends and extended family had expressed their opinions about putting Hailey to sleep, and her owners were quite conflicted about what to do.
The guilt inducing and judgmental comments made by well-intentioned friends made their decision difficult. They truly wanted more time with Hailey.
The discussion I shared with Hailey’s care takers was the one I share with many pet guardians, and points I shared follow:
- The choice about when and how to let your pet go is very personal and should not be dependent on others’ opinions. It is entirely yours.
- It is not selfish to care for those you love and keep them close. Being a caregiver is a very loving and compassionate choice, so do not feel guilty about choosing to care for someone you love.
- As long as you provide humane care, pain management and nutritional support, your pet can remain quite comfortable, even with a diagnosis of a terminal condition, like cancer.
- Life is terminal, as it always ends in death. Our time is limited, so how, who and what we love and choose to spend that time gives our lives meaning. Everything that enhances our ability to share and spread love is worth cherishing.
- There are alternative methods of effective pain management, like acupuncture and PEMF devices, which provide comfort, without the need for sedating pain meds or opiate drugs. Employing these options can allow you to truly enjoy your pet’s company and your pet will love being cared for by you.
- Death is permanent, so take your time to explore your options and get other opinions, if you are not comfortable with the choices you are given a first or second veterinarian.
- The quality time that you share towards the end of your pet’s life is precious and often more meaningful, because of your appreciation for each moment. That experience and all the lessons you learn from your pet will make your pet’s life and love more meaningful for when you share those lessons of compassion in your future interactions with others.
Hailey’s owners cried a lot during the first visit, but they decided to try some treatments to help her become more comfortable. After 2 days of acupuncture treatments, she started breathing better.
After she was stable and feeling better, I prescribed and alternative, painless treatment called Sanawave therapy, which is a device that delivers PEMF, Radiofrequency hyperthermia and sound waves to destroy cancer cells, control pain and heal tissues. Hailey achieved a 3 month palliative remission, without negative side effects.
During that time she ate, played and didn’t require any pain medications. Her breathing was comfortable and she slept through the night.
Hailey enjoyed her owners and had a great energy. They had the joy of holding the pet that had meant so much to the husband and father who had passed.
3 months may not sound like a lot of extra time, but in human oncology, 1 month of added life expectancy is considered clinically significant and reason for a new chemotherapy treatment to be offered.
After 3 months, when Hailey began showing symptoms of respiratory difficulty and lung tumor spread, her owners decided to have her euthanized in their home, humanely. She passed without pain and without anxiety, when they were ready to say goodbye.
Veterinary care, pet owner expectations for pet care, and the place pets hold in our hearts and homes have changed dramatically over the past 4 decades.
I believe that humans are becoming more compassionate and understanding, in part because of the unconditional love our animals give. Our pets’ love continues every time we offer a supportive comment, kindness and avoid being judgmental to others.