Advice from the Experts

Facing the death of a pet is never easy

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Q: My 13-year-old dog passed away last month. I'm grateful I was able to be with him when he passed away at home. My buddy did have a full checkup two months before. The veterinarian had asked about any changes in the dog's behavior. While standing in the office, it was impossible for me to ask what I should expect and how much time I'd have with my dog. There had been signs he was approaching the end of his life, but I was unable to get much information about this process from Internet searches. Could you do readers a favor by identifying stages of natural death in our pets? -- B.M., St. Petersburg, FL

A: Most importantly, I'm sorry for your loss. Sadly, there seems to be a communication gap between you and veterinarian. You did the right thing by apparently expressing your concerns to the veterinarian, and it seems your vet was right in asking about changes in your declining friend's behavior. Without having been present, I can't discern what could possibly have gone wrong. Were you both avoiding "the e-word"? In my opinion, euthanasia is a final act of love which should have been discussed.

Of course, a lifetime of regular veterinary visits provides preventive care, and allows for catching illness early. Another benefit is that your veterinarian gets to know both you and your pet.

By way of example, Lucy, our 15-year-old miniature Australian Shepherd, who had been declining, fell ill. We rushed her to an emergency veterinarian. After her release, I took Lucy to see our general practitioner. When I walked into her office, all Dr. Natalie Marks, of Chicago, did was give me a look, her eyes teared up, and she hugged me. Without saying a word, she told me "It's time."

In my opinion, one drawback of becoming so incredibly attached to our pets is that we have a hard time letting go, and frequently wait longer than we should to relieve their suffering. In fact, suffering can often be avoided. (Of course, I'm by no means suggesting this was true in your case, since I have no way to know.)

I do advocate in-home euthanasia, at least as an option. Many people simply prefer the privacy and dignity of euthanizing in-home. Other people opt to not have their final farewell to their pet take place in the home. I do think pet owners should be given this option, when medically feasible.

If your pet is in pain which can no longer be controlled, is no longer interested in food or beloved family members, and is merely just existing rather than living, it may be time to euthanize.

Dr. Alice Villalobos offers a "Quality of Life Scale", which many pet owners find useful, Still, even the most efficient Google search isn't going to tell you about your own pet; only your veterinarian can do that.

Q: I'm involved in a TNR program, and I'm so angry about the anti-cat sentiment created by bogus published report of how cats kill millions of birds. The report says TNR (trap, neuter, return) worsens the problem, As a TNR volunteer, I know otherwise, but people believe this garbage. What do you think? -- C.J., Baltimore, MD

A: The report you (and many others readers with similar concerns) refer to was published in the Journal Nature (December, 2012). According to the study, a whopping 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are killed annually by cats (mostly feral cats), not to mention billions of other small animals.

I also have concerns with this report. Of course, with feral cat populations so variable around the country, so is their prey. To start, I question the validity of the bird numbers cited. Also, no mention is made of what conservation and ecology experts mention as the most significant factors impacting songbird numbers: habitat loss and light and air pollution. Climate changes might also play a role.

You are right that not only don't the authors credit TNR as a part of the solution to rising numbers of feral cat, but they also contend that TNR programs contribute to the feral cat problem.

TNR programs are volunteer-based efforts, whereby cat lovers humanely trap feral cats. Any young kittens are adopted out into families and sick cats are treated or euthanized. The majority of cats are spayed/neutered, vaccinated for rabies, ear-tipped for identification (so caretakers know which individuals have been altered), then returned to where they were originally trapped to live out their lives. Sometimes volunteer caretakers supplement cat colonies with food.

What upsets me most about the report is that it furthers divisiveness between so-called "bird people" and "cat people." Instead, both groups should be working together to enhance lives for all species. But how do you do that? The report doesn't offer a single recommendation of a "better" idea than TNR, which has been proven effective.

Q: A friend just returned from Rwanda with two Rwandan dogs. Are you aware of any specific dog breed associated with this country? -- M.S., Cyberspace

A: Thank you for your interesting question. Here's a list of dog breeds from Africa, and the likely area of origin:

Aidi: A relatively large dog known for protection work, from the Sahara.

Azawakh: A coursing dog (sighthound), relative of the Greyhound, from the Sahara.

Basenji: Moderately common mid-sized dog, unable to bark, but chortles, from Northeast Africa.

Boerboel: A large Mastiff-type dog, originally from South Africa.

Chinese Crested: Sweet little powder puffs with little or no hair likely originated somewhere in Africa (despite their name) but no one knows where.

Coton de Tulear: Relative of the Bichon Frise (increasing in popularity in the U.S.), once kept only by Royalty in Madagascar.

Rhodesian Ridgeback: Originated to help hunt lion and as a guard dog, as well as a companion in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Sloughi: A sleek sighthound, slightly smaller than the Azawakh, throught to be from Morocco.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.