My Pet World: Aging dog might be good candidate for pet hospice

Question: My dog hasn't been doing well, and I'm thinking it may be time. She's eating, but she's been sleeping more over the past year. Puddles, a Shipoo (Shih Tzu and poodle mix) is 17. My kids are devastated and aren't ready, even though our dog is.

Puddles is on pain meds, and has dental problems that we can't do anything about. I'm worried about her quality of life. My vet said, "She's 17. What do you expect?" We're thinking about quality of life. People say your dog will tell you when it's time, but I'm not sure about that. Any advice? — P.M., Minneapolis, MN

Answer: Dr. Alice Villalobos of Hermosa Beach, president of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics, is an expert on euthanasia issues and pet hospice. In fact, she moderated two roundtable discussions on these issues at the AVMA Convention, in which I was honored to participate.

"Of course, it's normal for a 17-year-old dog to slow down," Villalobos says. "However, depending on your dog's general health, a dental [treatment] might be very safe with careful monitoring, and in your dog's best interest to alleviate the pain. If not, there are pain medications."

The value of having a close relationship with your veterinarian should, ideally, pay off now. The vet can offer an unbiased view when it's difficult for family members to assess what to do. Villalobos concedes that telling you your dog is old without offering direction or advice is of little help.

If your pet is suffering now, and nothing can be done to enhance her quality of life, perhaps it is time to euthanize.

Villalobos created a quality of life checklist to help guide pet owners in making what's often a very difficult decision. See

On the other hand, it may not be the right time to euthanize. If so, take advantage of the time you do have to plan. In fact, there's a possibility your dog may now, or when the time is right, be a candidate for pet hospice. In such programs, pets live at home and receive care, perhaps with the help of a visiting veterinary professional. However, the idea is never to prolong suffering.

Buying time would also give you and your husband an opportunity to talk to prepare your kids, and yourselves, for what comes next. Villalobos also suggests the book, "So Easy to Love, So Hard to Lose: A Bridge to Healing Before and After the Loss of a Pet," by Laurie Kaplan (JanGen Press, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 2010; $15.56).

Q: If a flea bites a cat with FIV (the feline immunodeficiency virus), then bites a healthy kitten, can feline AIDS (FIV) be passed this way? — M.K., Los Alamos

A: We know that FIV is contagious from cat to cat, spread primarily through bite wounds. It's also possible for FIV to be transmitted in-utero.

Dr. Dwight Bowman, a professor of parasitology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y., and president of the Companion Animal Parasite Council, says you pose an excellent question.

"The volume of blood is so small, and the virus is simply not designed to replicate through insect bites," Bowman says. "To my knowledge, there is no known instance of FIV being transmitted in this manner."

However, in cats, fleas may spread tapeworm, the Bartonella bacteria that causes catscratch fever, and a blood parasite that can cause anemia. Also, fleas might bite human family members. Learn more at

Q: Why does my cat carry his favorite toy to his food bowl, then to his cat bed? —S.E., Cyberspace

A: Legendary veterinary behaviorist Dr. R.K. Anderson, who turns 90 this year, says, "It might be because you think it's cute, you offered the cat attention for the behavior. Attention is a wonderful reward. Or it might be your cat just likes to carry the toy around because we all like our favorite toys to be near us."



IMMITICIDE (melarsomine dihydrochloride), the medication used to treat heartworm disease in dogs, is currently unavailable (except for product already on the shelves). Merial reports that the company that manufactures IMMITICIDE is experiencing technical issues in their plant, which will temporarily affect its ability to provide a product to Merial for distribution.

For the general public and for veterinarians, further information on alternative heartworm disease management, plus updates on drug availability, will be available through the American Heartworm Society,

The universal advice offered to pet owners is to avoid any potential need for heartworm treatment by using a preventative. Many products also protect against intestinal parasites.

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