That Doghouse in the

coping with the death of your friend

You thought the C-Word was bad? Meet the word that most dog owners don't even want to admit exists: euthanasia. It's the worst of the worst for any dog owner, and even those with happy, healthy pups can get teary just thinking about the prospect. It's one thing to have to say goodbye to your best buddy, it's another thing entirely to have to give someone permission to take his life. Most pet owners think they won't be able to make such a difficult decision, but many sources now show that euthanasia is the leading cause of death in dogs - this would indicate that owners seriously underestimate themselves. Whether by euthanasia or natural death, the passing of your pup is a difficult, emotional time for everyone in your family. It's important to have the facts to deal with it most effectively.

How long will my dog live?

That depends on the dog. The general rule of thumb is that smaller breeds live much longer than larger ones, but the actual length of life varies from dog to dog. Larger dogs' bodies - their hearts in particular - have to work much harder to keep them going, which means they wear out a lot sooner than their smaller counterparts' bodies. This also means that two dogs of the same breed can have very different life expectancies if one is much larger than the other.

Of course, the dog's environment, nutrition, and care from her owner factors heavily into her life expectancy. A dog who lives a completely sedentary life with only minimal exercise will not likely have a long life. A very small dog whose breed life expectancy is over 10 years may live a far shorter life if prone to nerves and anxiety.

My dog is really sick. What options do I have besides euthanasia? You may not have any other options. It really depends on the situation. In certain cases, injuries and damage from disease are too severe to make keeping your dog alive a humane option. In other circumstances, your veterinarian may be able to effectively manage your dog's pain through the use of medication and therapy. In the best cases, this pain management will work effectively and last long enough to allow your dog pass on naturally and with minimal pain.

Quick tip: Talk with your vet about the aging process and life expectancy as soon as you can. This will help you ease into the concept and make it easier to accept that your friend won't always be by your side.

You have a general idea of what will happen when your dog passes away, but what if you go before your dog? Speak with a friend or family member about adopting your pet if you pass on, or at least establish instructions for having a loved one take your dog to a specific rescue group or society. This will help you be sure your pooch will be well cared for even if you're not around.

As you'll soon read, though, choosing one of these options is not to be done lightly. If your veterinarian feels that euthanasia the best choice for your dog, listen to his reasons, voice your own concerns, and try to come to a decision together.

How am I supposed to decide whether or not to euthanize my dog?

This is never a decision you should make on your own. The first person you consult should be your veterinarian, who can let you know the pros and cons behind euthanization, pain management through medication, and any other options he may see as suitable for your dog. Beyond that, you have some deep thinking of your own - you'll find a list of questions below that may help you make a more rational decision. If you have other family members, they should be involved in the decision-making process. In addition to being fair, this can help them better cope with the death of their dog later.

Questions to Ask in Case of Severe Illness or Injury

Does the same illness keep recurring?

Has your dog's illness gotten progressively worse?

Does your dog's illness still respond to therapy or medication?

Is she suffering?

Does the vet have a way of relieving the suffering besides euthanasia?

If your dog survives its illness or injury, can you provide the time necessary to care for her?

Will caring for her cripple your family financially?

Use each of these questions as a means of opening discussion with your family members. Talk openly about the illness or injury and what would be best for both your dog and your family. While you may want nothing more than to have your pet back in your home, her comfort should be your top priority. If keeping her alive means that she'll remain in pain for the rest of her life, you may decide that it will hurt you more to see her suffer so much over time. If you believe your dog has a decent chance at recovery but that her medical bills will place you in a great deal of debt, consider the tension and stress financial issues can cause between family members. Your dog can sense this tension and take it on as her own, which means her health may ultimately suffer because you fought to keep her alive.

Fast fact: "Euthanasia" comes from the Greek words "eu" and "thanatos," which means "good death."

Your veterinary clinic probably offers cremation as an option after euthanization. If you decide you don't want to have your pet cremated, you can opt to bury her in a location of your choosing.

Helpful hint: If you choose to bury your dog, wrap her in biodegradable materials like blankets or sheets, not plastic.

What can I do to make it easier on my dog and my family? Grief is completely natural, especially when it comes to a beloved family member. That's what your dog is, right? Encourage your children to cry if they need to, and don't be ashamed to do so yourself. If you've made the decision to euthanize your dog, your veterinarian may give you the option of going into the room and staying with your dog during her last few moments. This is a decision that is completely up to you - some find it helpful and comforting to hold their pets during the procedure, others would rather remember their dog alive and happy.

Even if you decide to have your dog cremated, having a small memorial service for her can help your entire family through the grieving process, particularly small children. Have each person write a number of favorite memories or things they loved about your dog, then read them while lighting candles in her honor. Looking through photos from times throughout her life can help you laugh, smile, and remember the more positive things about her rather than focusing only on the fact that she's gone.

Whether your dog is passing away naturally or by euthanization, there are a few steps you can take to make things a little easier to handle for all involved. Plan "Doggie Days Out," for which you can set aside a date and take your pooch to a special place. It should be a day devoted entirely to her, so bring all of her favorite toys, treats, and go to her favorite park or nature trail. Take pictures of the whole family together, and let every family member have some special time alone with the pup. If possible, plan several of these and make sure they're fun, festive occasions, not somber ones.

Think of all of her favorite activities and make sure she gets to do them at least one or two more times. If she always loved riding in the car with her head out the window but could no longer handle the hop into the front seat, have a friend or family member help you lift her into the car. Even if you just run a few short errands or drive aimlessly for 20 minutes, your dog will appreciate feeling like her old self.

Whether your dog is passing away naturally or by euthanization, there

Some owners choose to have their dogs memorialized or buried at pet cemeteries. This option allows you and your family to "visit" with your pet as often as you'd like and continue to feel close to her after she has passed on.

She's been an important member of your family, so try to make sure those last few weeks are as carefree and happy as possible. If she's become crankier or less cuddly during her illness, encourage family members not to take any growls or lack of interest personally. She won't understand what's happening with her body and doesn't mean to hurt her loved ones' feelings. These are the last times you'll get to play with her, so make them count. Let her know exactly what she means to you and make that last hug and kiss the best she's had in her life.

What happens during euthanization? Does it hurt? Euthanization is, very simply, an overdose of an anesthetic. Because of the drug used (Phenobarbital), it is typically painless for the dog. The Phenobarbital is administered using a small needle and directly through the vein. The dog will lose consciousness within a few seconds and, after about 10 seconds, her heart will stop and her brain's activity will cease.

One of the more painful aspects of euthanasia for the owner is the fact that the electrical activity in the body can continue for several minutes after death. Legs and some facial nerves can twitch while the body triggers the lungs to take a reflexive gasp. After ten minutes, this activity should stop.

I have another dog. Will he notice that our other dog is gone?

Yes. He won't understand why, of course, but he'll know that his buddy is no longer around and that his habits have been disrupted. If your dogs were particularly close, shared beds, food dishes, and the like, then your dog may have a lot of trouble adjusting to the absence of his friend. Some dogs become extremely depressed, others don't seem to notice at all. If your dog has passed away naturally at home, your other dog may want to sniff and "inspect" her body. Allow him to do so, as it's part of a dog's natural instinct and may help him understand the other dog's absence in the next few days.

Helpful hint: Losing a pet can be extremely traumatic for many people. Because of this, greeting card companies have begun making sympathy cards for the death of a loved one's pet. If you know someone who has lost a furry friend, the simple act of sending a card can help them feel validated in their grief and comforted by your thoughts.

Young children often have the most difficult

time understanding why a dog they loved to play with is no longer around the house. This

can be the perfect learning opportunity to teach

children about death and any beliefs you and

your family may have about the afterlife. Your local bookstore has plenty of children's books available to help you help them understand. Here are a few to get you started:

I Miss You, by Pat Thomas

Sad Isn't Bad, by Michaelene Mundy

Help Me Say Goodbye, by Janis Silverma

n

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, by Leo Buscaglia

It's very tempting to go out and find another dog immediately after losing one. This impulse is especially tempting when one of your other pets seems sad or depressed because his buddy is gone. If you decide to get another dog, be absolutely certain that your entire family is ready for the new member.

It's equally tempting for some people to swear off ever owning another dog. This is completely natural and will most likely subside once you're through a decent period of mourning.

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