Animal End-of-Life Care

Last weekend I attended a meeting of the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC). What an inspiring group of people, all getting together to talk about death! I know it is a subject that we would rather ignore, but the reality is that when we live with animals, we must experience their death or loss in one way or another. Most of us who take the plunge of pet stewardship understand that reality, and find that the relatively short time together is worth the grief of loss that we feel. “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” Having animals in our lives can bring us such pleasure, comfort, entertainment and consternation (but every great relationship has some of all of that!) Sometimes the bond with our animals can be stronger than those we have with people (perhaps a symptom of a lack of community support in our modern society, but that is another conversation!) I’d like to see a world where we are well bonded to our animals and our people and can learn from all of these relationships.

As a house call veterinarian, I get a special glimpse into those bonds that people form with animals, and have an added opportunity to support them. One of my greatest concerns is that as animals age or have a terminal diagnosis, they still need to be supported. Even if we cannot “cure” them, we can provide care and comfort to support their quality of life. Their needs change and we can adapt to that if we are prepared. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anything more that we can do as end of life approaches, but simple things like adapting the litterbox so they can step into it, providing a ramp so they don’t have to stumble down the stairs to get outside, or offering pain and joint support can make a huge difference in their life experience. As our pets near the end of their lives, I would like to provide more than just a peaceful in-home euthanasia (which is very important to me as well.) If you feel that your pet needs some extra support, I can provide a “palliative care” and/or “
end-of-life care” consultation to address those needs.

Health, Harmony and Healing

Many of you have been aware that I have had some medical issues since last March or so. I have spent my summer chasing diagnoses from rheumatoid arthritis to Lyme disease to Lupus, and have currently landed on an answer that I much prefer, which is that this has been a rheumatoid-like reaction to a virus (possibly human parvovirus) that I encountered last winter, that should eventually resolve. I have had symptoms of “migratory arthritis,” which was jumping around from wrists and hands to knees, ankles and toes. Now the swelling has subsided and it seems to have settled to a dull ache in my wrists and hands. I am also experiencing fatigue and have not been able to exercise as I like to. The good news is that I seem to be recovering!

This has been an education in many things including humility and mortality as well as gratitude to my friends and family that have pitched in when I needed a hand. It was difficult to accept that I was unable to do all of the things that I wanted to and the thought that this was my new permanent state was rather daunting. Our family still has many plans, which include hiking and rafting the Grand Canyon, traveling, camping and paddling and otherwise being active for many years to come. I adapted my thinking to include these things, perhaps at a modified pace.

I have gained a much better understanding and compassion for those who live their lives in chronic pain and fatigue – even a few days were enough to show me that was a challenging way to live. I have renewed respect and admiration for my sister-in-law who lives with these challenges and just keeps on smiling. I also feel like I’ve gained just a little insight into the arthritic pain of my animal patients. I was amazed that I didn’t realize how cranky I was being until the pain was better controlled with anti-inflammatory medications. My family appreciates it when I take my medications!

So those cranky old dogs and cats may be experiencing more pain than we realize. The gradual decrease in activity, jumping less, slow to get up, I can now relate better to all of these things. This has also given me an opportunity to experiment on myself with some of the herbal treatments that I use on my patients. I have found some nice herbs that control the pain at least as well as my anti-inflammatory pills, without the concerns for some of the long-term side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs.) I also feel a higher level of energy when I am taking them. I have been on herbs alone for the last month and have been quite comfortable – to the point that I thought my condition was going away completely. Then I took a few days off, just to assess things and, wow, those herbs do a really great job! Without the herbs, after a couple of days, the pain in my wrists and hands returned, and I think I got a little cranky… so, back to my herbs and we’ll see where I go from here.

Here is a link to a new page I have added highlighting some of my favorite local sources for Human Health:
Health, Harmony and Happiness

Wishing you all health, harmony and happiness!

Community Cookbook

Ok, this has nothing to do with animals, but it has a lot to do with supporting the community. I am very proud of the work my girls and their friends in their girl scout troop have done creating a cookbook that will be given to patrons of our local food pantries. They toured the pantries as well as grocery stores and came up with recipes that included simple, mostly healthy, ingredients. The girls also created a website on their own where you can purchase a cookbook:

Proceeds will allow for continued printing and distribution of the cookbooks.

Bio Blitz!

This past weekend, my daughters, a couple of their friends, and I attended the Bio Blitz put on by the Iowa Wildlife Center. The girls had a great time catching frogs and toads, snakes, fireflies and damselflies and getting muddy, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the naturalists specializing in everything from birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects to plants, fungi and lichen. The Bio Blitz is intended to take 24 hours to catalog as many species as possible of living things on the Wildway property, which is the future location of their wildlife rehabilitation center located out by Ledges. This information will be used to plan for land management in hopes of encouraging native species and removing invasive species to heal the land as they heal the animals in their rehabilitation efforts. For us, it was a fabulous educational experience and a great time spent out in the natural world with an amazing group of people.

They will host one more Bio Blitz in September - for more information see the Iowa Wildlife Center website: Any donations for the wildlife rehabilitation center project are greatly appreciated.

Supplements for Pets

It can be difficult to know what supplements may be beneficial for ourselves or our pets. Some are useful for all life stages (such as fish oil and antioxidants) and some become more important later in life (glucosamine / chondroitin for example). I have recently written an article for the July/August Wheatsfield Field Journal on the topic and for the extended version, I have added a page to Pet Care section - Supplements. If you have any questions about what supplements would be helpful for your individual pet, please contact me for a consultation.

Meet Phidippides

Pasted Graphic 2We have a new puppy at our house! His name is Phidippides (Phi-DIP-i-deez, emphasis on the DIP). He goes by Phidy for short. He was named by my 11 year old after the Ancient Greek runner who inspired the Marathon race. And yes, he loves to run. We found him at the Ames animal shelter and he is a 5 month old chocolate lab. So far, he seems to be very well adjusted. He is adapting to the cats, and they are teaching him the ropes. It is definitely easier having a puppy with our children now 11 and 14 years old than when they were 4 and 6! This time I only have one to watch closely, the other 2 (after many years of training) have to watch out for themselves. They are also quite useful with puppy training and exercising. Look forward to more information on choosing a pet, puppy training, and other related topics, as I am dreaming "sit" "come" "down" "OFF!".

Winter Reflections

Winter is traditionally a time of introspection, a time where in the cold darkness our ancestors took more time to contemplate their lives than we do today. In our modern world, we have electricity - lights all night long if we want them - heat at the push of a button (not forgetting the less fortunate who still struggle for these simple necessities), and electronic entertainment: television, movies, internet, and games, games games! It takes a little extra effort to find that quiet winter space of contemplation and storytelling that so nourished past generations. Though it has been much milder than normal for us here in Iowa, I know others, including my relatives in the Pacific Northwest, are struggling with winters beyond their usual experience. I would like to invite you to find that place this season, while the days are still shorter. Even though the temperatures aren’t keeping us cooped up, find a quiet space for contemplation before the earth springs back to life and takes us out to our gardens and summer activities - it will happen before we know it!

My mind is turning to our relationships with animals, our pets and nature. The animals that live close with us are the best at opening our senses and perspectives. They teach us patience, compassion, tolerance, and love. They show us how to “live in the moment,” that elusive place that we seem to pass by as we worry and plan for the future and review events of the past. Take a moment to sit quietly and observe an animal - wild or domestic - carrying on its daily activities, whether it is a bird outside foraging endlessly or the cat endlessly napping. Animals touch us and teach us and bond to us even when we try to resist it.

It has been my plan, since this website was created, to have an area for people to share their stories, photos, poems, and artwork relating to special animals in their lives. I see this as not just a memorial page of animals gone from us, but a celebration of the life all around us that continues on, a collection of stories of how animals touch our lives. I don’t want it to be only my stories, but I will start the ball rolling. I would like to invite you to share your stories, and photos can add so much if you have them. They can be anonymous if you like, dedicated to those special creatures that enrich our lives and sometimes drive us crazy!

Send your stories to me.
They may not be posted immediately, I will get to them as there is time, and they may need editing to fit the page - I will contact you about any changes. Thank you for your participation in this Celebration of Life.