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Responsible Pet Owners Month: A Celebration of Love and Commitment

Brought to you by National Service Animal Registry. Learn more about us and how to qualify your pet as a service dog, emotional support animal (ESA), or therapy animal, TODAY!

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How To Say Goodbye

None of us want to think about what will happen when our service dog gets old or sick. We depend on them for so many things; perhaps most importantly, for companionship. We don’t want to imagine what our lives would be like without them, or that we might have to make a difficult decision when they reach the end of their life.

Naturally, we’d prefer for our service dogs to pass peacefully in their sleep, but more often than not there comes a point where we have to think about euthanasia. Having an animal in our lives is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility. Making the decision to put our pets to sleep is often the kindest thing to do in the end.

The aim of this article is to provide you with all the information you need so you know what to expect when the time comes. Saying goodbye to your best friend is never going to be easy, but being well informed about the process will hopefully make the journey smoother for you and help you prepare for the decisions you will need to make.

How to know when the time is right

One of the hardest things about euthanasia is the fact that, ultimately, we have to make the final decision. This can be particularly difficult for older service dogs who have deteriorated gradually.

How do we decide when it’s the right time? What if we make the decision too early? How can we know that today is the right day? Are they so much worse than they were yesterday? How do we know how they will be tomorrow?

It’s very important to remember that you don’t have to make this decision on your own. Your vet, who is objective and less emotionally involved, will be able to advise you, so make sure you ask for their help and guidance. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to make the decision. You might also be able to get support and advice from friends and family, particularly if they have been through this too.

It might help you to come to terms with the decision if you look at photographs or videos of your when they were younger. If you see how much they have changed and are struggling now in comparison, it might make you realize that the time is right.

Assessing your service dog’s quality of life

In the end, making a decision about pet euthanasia often comes down to their quality of life. If you have had a close relationship with your service dog, you will not want them to suffer. You want them to die with dignity, free of pain. Your vet will be able to help you assess their quality of life. It might help for you to consider these questions.

  • Is your service dog suffering from chronic pain that can’t be controlled by medication?
  • Is he experiencing frequent vomiting? Is he continent?
  • Does he find it difficult to breathe?
  • Is he taking in enough water? Is he able to drink independently?
  • Is he eating voluntarily? Is he interested in food?
  • Is his coat healthy? Are all pressure spots and wounds clean?
  • Does he still want to do the things he has always enjoyed? Is he keen to go for a walk? Does he respond to his favorite people? Is he interested in his favorite toys?
  • Is he able to stand and walk on his own?

If you are responding negatively to many of these questions, it’s time to get your vet’s opinion about the right course of action for your animal.

How to prepare

Once the decision to go ahead with euthanasia is made, you may find it difficult to hand over all control to the vet. You might experience feelings of powerless, which can be hard to deal with. It might help if you focus on the parts you can control, such as where the procedure will take place and how you can make it as comfortable as you can for your dog or cat.

It might also help to make a plan for what will happen afterward. Organizing a memorial for our pets can help us process grief, just like it does when we organize a person’s funeral. It’s also a good idea to make these arrangements in advance to take the pressure off the period immediately after the procedure, when you might not be up to it.

Anticipate the fact that organizing payment following the procedure might not be easy for you emotionally, so ask your vet in advance how much it will cost and how you will pay. It might be possible to settle the bill beforehand, so you don’t have to think about it afterward.

What will happen

Although you may not feel like hearing all the details, getting as much information as you can from your vet about the options will help you make an informed decision on behalf of your beloved animal and to prepare yourself.

Sometimes, it’s possible for the vet to come to your home to carry out the procedure. If you think this would be easier for you, ask the vet if it’s an option. On the other hand, you may prefer to personally take your pet to the vet’s office or animal hospital and remain with him or her, while others choose to say goodbyes and not be present for the procedure. Remember, everyone copes differently, and there is no shame in leaving the final act to the vet.

The procedure

If you are planning to be present at the end, it’s a good idea to know what to expect so you are prepared. The procedure will vary according to the vet and the animal, so ask for it to be explained to you beforehand. Ask all the questions you need to; nothing is too trivial. This is will help you prepare.

Normally, pets are put to sleep by an overdose of anesthetic. In larger animals, such as dogs and cats, this is injected into a vein; in smaller animals, it is normally injected into the abdomen following sedation.

Vets sometimes sedate larger animals too but may opt not to do so, as this can make the animals sick. It can also make it harder for the vet to find a vein and carry out the procedure smoothly.

Remember, even if they are not sedated, all your service dog will feel is the prick of the needle. The whole thing will be over very quickly, as the anesthetic reaches the heart in seconds.

For smaller animals, the procedure is likely to take place on a table, and for larger ones it might be carried out on the floor. The vet will have to hold the animal in a certain way, so he/she is likely to tell you where you can stand (or sit) so your animal can hear your voice and feel your presence while giving your vet the room he/she needs.

Sometimes animals have a reaction after death that can be upsetting if you’re not expecting it. Some might gasp or make a noise; they might twitch or empty their bowels. Remember, your service dog and is unaware of this; it is it completely normal.

What happens next?

Don’t worry if you feel upset and cry or find it hard to control your emotions. Your vet will have performed this procedure many times and will have seen a wide range of reactions. You may surprise yourself by being calm, especially if you are well prepared. You might also feel some relief on behalf of your service dog, if they have been suffering. People react in very different ways, and each one is perfectly natural.

If the procedure takes place at the vet’s office, you will be given time afterward to say goodbye to your service dog. You will have decided beforehand if your vet is going to organize a cremation,,if you prefer to do this for yourself.

If your pet didn’t have an infectious disease, you can opt to take him or her home with you. If you wish the arrange a burial or cremation at a pet cemetery the international association of pet cemeteries and crematories will be able to direct you to one in your area. If you wish to bury him yourself or scatter his ashes, you’ll want to check with the local authority to see if there are any restrictions.

How to cope with grief following the loss of your beloved animal

No one who has had a strong bond with a pet will be surprised to hear that losing a beloved animal can be as difficult as losing a person you are close to. Some people feel quite isolated, lonely, and even depressed when they lose their service dog. It can be difficult to express your feelings, particularly if you think the people around you don’t understand.

If you have friends and family who have been through it, reach out to them for help. It helps to talk to someone who has been there, and it’s important that you don’t bottle up your grief. If you don’t have sympathetic people close to you, try to find a support network. Ask your doctor about local support and counseling. It’s important that you find someone you can talk to.

Sometimes the fact that you had to make the final decision can weigh heavily on you. You might experience feelings of guilt and self-doubt. Remember, you made the decision in consultation with your vet, and you were doing what was best for your service dog by relieving them of their pain and letting them pass with dignity.

Sometimes it helps to create a memorial for your pet. Some people have a portrait painted, or make a scrapbook of photos and memories. You might like to think about having a stone in your garden or planting a tree. Some people like to donate to an animal charity. If you’re struggling to come to terms with the passing of your pet, you may consider writing down your feelings in a journal. Sometimes expressing feelings on paper helps you to come to terms with them.

When is it time to get a new service dog?

Some of us need a service dog in order to be able to carry out the functions of our everyday life. If this is the case for you, however difficult it sounds, it’s a good idea to start making arrangements to find another animal to love – and don’t feel guilty about it. You will have great memories of your old friend, but that doesn’t stop you from making new memories, or new friends.

If your needs are not immediate, take your time and don’t put yourself under pressure to make a decision. Ultimately, you need to think about your quality of life and how much you benefit from having a service dog.

Final words

Saying goodbye to a service dog can be extremely difficult, particularly if we have to make the decision to put them to sleep. When they reach a point where they do not have a good quality of life and they are having more bad days than good, we need to take a step back and think about what is best for them.

The strong feelings you might experience in the period after they have gone are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they are a testament to the special bond you shared with your pet.

Although you might be in pain now, know that you will recover. You have done the best thing for your service dog and you will always have those very special memories.

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Feeding Your Service Dog Less May Lead to a Longer Life

Most people love their pets, but for the disabled, a service dog isn’t just a beloved friend. They are an essential part of their lives, and vital to their independence. Service dogs are employed around the world to help guide the blind, alert deaf to important sounds such as doorbells or phones, and to alert to a wide range of medical conditions.

It can cost between $20,000-$60,000 to properly train a service dog and replacing them when they become too old to work or pass away is both heart wrenching and difficult. Both the handler and the dog must learn to work with a new person, and there’s no guarantee that the match will work.

Between the expense and the level of effort it takes to transfer to a new service dog, it makes sense to keep a beloved friend in service for as long as possible. The good news is, keeping your dog in good weight can not only extend his life, but make those years higher quality as well.

Weight gain is a growing problem for dogs

In the United States alone, 54% of dogs are overweight or obese. A 2014 study conducted by Banfield pet hospitals found that overweight dogs live shorter lives than those who are a healthy weight. The difference in lifespan came to about 2 ? years.

Overweight dogs are also prone to a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and even ACL tears. These problems may shorten your pets lifespan, but critically for service dogs, could bring an end to their career.

If they ever have to undergo surgery, they are also more at risk because overweight dogs have to work harder to breathe and may take longer to wake up after anesthesia.

Feeding less is the best choice

Weight loss happens when a dog takes in fewer calories than it burns. While you can increase exercise in the hopes of helping your pet burn calories, the reality is your service dog probably already gets plenty of exercise every day as he performs the tasks required of him.

The saying goes, “You can’t outrun a bad diet,” and is meant as advice for runners who hope to lose weight through adopting running as an exercise routine. The same is true for dogs. Although exercise can help burn more calories, your service dog’s diet is where we truly need to look in order to help him lose weight. There are several methods you can use to help him lose weight, including:

Stop free feeding

Some people choose to keep unlimited amounts of food available for their dog. The theory being that a full dog won’t beg, and that they won’t overeat if they know there is always more food available. Dogs are opportunistic feeders however, and tend to eat more than they should, especially if it is readily available to snack on at a moment’s notice.

Instead, carefully read the instructions on your dog’s food, and follow the guidelines. These guidelines are different from brand to brand, and even between lines of the same brand.

Follow package instructions carefully

Different brands of dog food have different calorie amounts. A cup of food for one brand could have a vastly different calorie count than a cup from a different brand, even though it is the same volume. Read the package carefully, and double check that you are following instructions properly. Some people read the daily intake suggestion and think 1 cup per meal for example, and it is actually 1 cup per day.

If you want to feed multiple meals per day, split the daily value total into portions, rather than accidentally doubling or tripling the amount of dog food your pet receives with multiple meals of his daily value.

Get a body scale done on your dog

Most vets are happy to perform a body scale assessment on your dog, so that you know how far you need to go. They will give you a number between 1-5, with 1 being completely emaciated and 5 being morbidly obese. A body scale can let you know your dog’s condition and help guide you towards a healthy weight.

Include treats in overall feed amount

Many people forget that the treats and chews they offer their pet throughout the day also have calories. When feeding your service dogs his main meal, it’s important to subtract the amount of treats you have given from the total amount of kibble for the day.

Treats can add up to a surprising number of calories if you give them frequently, so if you love giving your service dog a few extras when it is off duty, this may be the culprit to his expanding waistline.

Feed less

If you have been carefully measuring your dog’s food, either by weighing it or by following the package instructions and your dog has not lost weight, it’s time to cut the amount of dog food. The measurements on the back of your dog food are simply guidelines, and they don’t always accurately reflect your dog’s needs.

Age, level of activity, and chronic diseases such as thyroid problems can slow down your dogs metabolism and make him need less than the recommended amount. If you see no change in his weight after reducing his food, it’s time to cut how much is getting in his bowl.

How much to cut your dog’s food

If you always measure your dog’s food and follow the guidelines on the back of the bag, you may be wondering where to go from there. Your dog food may suggest different measurements depending on energy requirements, but a good rule of thumb is to reduce the food you are giving your dog by 5% and then wait a few weeks to see how effective that is.

The delay between food reductions gives your service dog a chance to get used to the smaller amount of food, as well as time to lose weight. If he hasn’t lost enough weight after a few weeks, you can reduce the amount again. If you find yourself feeding less than 75% of the daily recommended amount, it may be time to switch to a lower calorie food instead.

Feeding your dog the correct amount of dog food can be tricky. The weight ranges on dog food labels can be huge and make it hard for you to guess what the appropriate amount is. Many labels also fail to meet standard calculations.

Your service dog will probably need to be on a diet for somewhere between 6-8 months in order to achieve a healthy body weight. Even just five pounds could take over a month as your dog gradually loses the weight.

Even if your dog has a lot of weight to lose, it’s important not to rush your dog’s weight loss. Rapid weight loss can have problems of its own, such as nutritional deficiencies, or even behavior problems such as digging through your trash.

It’s healthiest for your pet to lose the weight gradually, so that he has time to adjust to the reduced amount of food before making more adjustments. Your vet can be a very helpful guide here, letting you know if weight loss is too much or not enough.

Even if the weight loss is gradual, you will notice a difference in how your service dog is working as the weight comes off and he enjoys more energy and better health. Weight loss is a long term project, and is the same for people as it is for dogs. The best chance for your pet to not only lose the weight but also keep it off is a slow approach.

Why less food is so important

Most service dogs are larger dogs, such as labs and shepherds. On a medium to large sized dogs, a few extra pounds aren’t as noticeable compared to a couple of extra pounds on a tiny yorkie. Yet even just a few extra pounds on your service dog can not only decrease his lifespan, but also his quality of life. According to VCA dog hospitals, just 5 pounds of extra weight can be enough to put your dog at risk for chronic health conditions. The smaller your dog is, the more those extra pounds can stress the body.

Your service dog is a partner that gives you independence. Making sure he is healthy enough to continue to help you for as long as possible is a sensible step and is as easy as pouring a few less kibble into his bowl. He might not love a diet, but he will love the good health he can enjoy well into his twilight years as your partner in life.

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Help Your Service Dog Live Longer

When you have a service or emotional support animal in your life you know a bond that many other emotional support animal owners may only dream of. The service dog is there to comfort you and often times are in tune with your emotions and physical status. These service dogs are trained from puppyhood to be there just for someone like you. They often will protect you from danger and be the ultimate shoulder to cry on when it feels like the world around you is coming apart just a little more than normal. So, it’s no surprise that you’d want your service animal to be healthy if possible.

Getting Started

As with anything, keeping your service dog alive for longer is going to require a bit of research on your end. For starters, just what breed is your service dog? Each different breed of service dog requires different needs to reach their peak health daily. Just like humans, service dogs have their own individual needs that change based on a bunch of surrounding factors in their life. By learning the breed of your service dog, we can begin to pinpoint a starting point for their particular needs, and we can get a better grasp on what health conditions may be most likely to pop up in their lifetime.

We also are going to want to figure in the age of the service dog, as well as their current daily activity levels. Each service dog has a different personality, even within its own breed standards. To figure this out it will take less breed research and more of paying attention to your service dog’s individual habits. Try to record the amount of time your service dog is up and moving around compared to how much they are laying around or sleeping. Also, be sure to get their current weight, as well as write down how much food they seem to eat during the day.

Lastly, make note of what you do with your service dog. How much do you guys go out or do you give your service dog frequently treats throughout the week? By taking about a week or two to fully record your routine with your service dog and their habits, we will have a clear picture to start with. During this also consult your vet to see if the patterns you have noticed seem to line up with your service dog’s needs. Your vet can give you the best idea of what your emotional support animal may be lacking or needing to cut back on.

Keeping Them Nutritionally Sound

The diet of each service dog is going to vary greatly from individual to individual. Still, there are quite a few tips we can offer you to help you extend the life of your service dog through base nutritional knowledge. We will also be able to properly tell you some things you may not know about your canine companions’ dietary needs, such as the fact that service dogs are not full-on carnivores like many people believe. We can also give you a pretty good idea of just why table food is such a bad idea for any emotional support animal, especially a service dog.

First things first, dogs are not full carnivores. In fact, you may be surprised to know their mortal enemy the cat is actually more of a carnivore than a dog could ever hope to be. This is because over time a dog’s intestinal tract has grown longer to be able to better digest things like grains or vegetables depending on what food was available to them. This was most likely due to dogs adjusting to being domesticated creatures over such a long period of times. Thanks to their domestication their bodies have changed some of their nutritional needs from that of their wild counterparts to better help them survive in a human filled environment.

This means that while your service dog could use some vitamins from a few veggies mixed in with their food, they are not able to be vegetarian. If your service dog’s food doesn’t mostly seem to be meat, then you are going to want to change their brand. In order to check this pay attention to the first three ingredients on the back of your bag of service dog food. If they aren’t meat related, then you may just be better off with going to a more expensive brand that offers a more protein driven ingredient list. Many brands have come out in recent years to support better emotional support animal health. Of these brands, a lot of them are now even affordable for lower-income families due to their large market success.

Dietary requirements will also change depending on your service dog’s stage in life. This is because much like us, dogs will have changing nutritional needs throughout different parts of their life. Older service dogs may need more calcium in their food if their bones have begun to weaken. Likewise, when a service dog is younger you may need to give them a food containing higher calories to support healthy growth. Some breeds may even have special mixes available to them if they have strange requirements, and you can get yourself to an emotional support animal specialty store.

Hydration is really the last thing you’re going to need to worry about in the nutrition department. You should always have water available for your service dog and frequently take hydration breaks when on the go. While your dog may not seem like it, they can work up quite a thirst throughout the day. Since service dogs are also more patient creatures, they may not always let you know how thirsty they are unless they are desperate. Simply keep access to a clean source of water available for your service dog as much as possible to meet this need.

Activity is Key

While you may have nutritional needs down, this next part of service dog health lessons will require a lot more effort from you. To truly make sure your service dog is staying as fit as possible, they are going to need a lot of activity in their lives. Even for low energy breeds your going to find that a daily outing may just be needed to properly keep your service dog at a healthy weight and keep their muscles from growing weak over time. In truth, a service dog that just lays around all day is likely to develop a lot of physical, as well as, a lot of mental problems like depression. These can be detrimental to the long-term health of your emotional support animal.

This is where knowing the breed of your service dog is going to be a huge part of figuring things out. If we have a breed to start with then we can tell if they were originally bred to be a working-class service dog or not. Working class breeds need a lot of time to run around each day in order to properly balance their high metabolism and keep a healthy weight. This is because these breeds were originally bred to work all day doing thing such as corralling sheep. Some service dogs may even develop problems resting well if not properly exercised due to their high amounts of unspent exercise throughout the day.

One good way to keep your service dog active is to cycle in new toys. By introducing new toys to the environment, you can keep their interest peaked you encourage play. The more your service dog is encouraged to play inside, the more you can take a break from extra-long walks. If possible, you should consider getting a playmate for your service dog. Another dog can promote play in a way we could never hope to with our dogs. If another dog isn’t possible, then trips to the local dog park can make a great bi-weekly workout for your pet!

Lastly, make sure your dog is going out for at least 30 minutes each day or what their breed requires. If you don’t take your dog out for proper exercise each day, then health problems can quickly rise in the future. Sedentary lifestyles are not good for most any creature on earth including your dog. On the other hand, if you must take your dog out more a lot, be sure to allocate the proper time to rest each day.

Keeping The Veterinarian Happy

While keeping your veterinarian happy can seem like quite the daunting task, fear not! The truth is that a lot of people skip out on a lot of the health needs of their pets or may even put them off for longer without realizing the dangers it can pose to their dog’s health needs. While we can’t speak for any special cases of dog health, there are a few things that you can do to extend the life of your pet while making your veterinarian proud as well.

Keeping your service dog on a schedule may be a little troublesome. However, when it comes to properly getting your dog checked up, having a good schedule is a huge help to stop these health problems early on. If you can keep a good relationship with your vet and take your dog in regularly for check-ups, then it can end up making most health problems go away in their earlier stages. The vet can catch the signs of things that may be affecting your dog’s health with a regular check-up, and by just doing things like simple diet changes they can prevent bigger problems that would come up later on.

Another great way to keep your vet smiling is with flea, tick, and heartworm medicine. Always make sure your dog is up to date on their worm medicine no matter the time of year. The worms don’t just go away with cold weather, and are easily catchable during all times of the year. While this may be rarer for pests such as fleas. If you notice the weather starting to warm, be sure to immediately start your flea treatments if you have decided to forgo them in colder months. Many owners can avoid a bunch of transfer diseases just by making sure their dog is properly protected year round from pests that would love a taste of their blood.

Another much-overlooked part of your pet’s health, is their mental status. Your emotional support animal is going to deal with much more than just a normal dog. Thanks to this you are going to need to make sure they have proper time to unwind throughout the day. If your dog seems too stressed or to be going slower each day, then consider taking a break from going out if possible. Also, make sure to properly show your appreciation to your dog through spending downtime with them as well. The less stress your dog feels, the better their heart and brain will do throughout the years.

Finally, be sure to stay with the same vet, if possible, throughout your dog’s life. By keeping the same vet you are guaranteeing that your dog can get some of the best care. That vet will know the ends and outs of your dog’s medical history. This means that your vet will be able to more correctly diagnose your dog or notice any differences in their labs or blood work more quickly.

Keep Them Close

By mixing all of this together you can help your pet live a longer life. Service Dogs may need more care than some other pets due to the amount of stress we put on them. By providing them with great medical care and nutritional requirements though, we can make them have much longer lives. Never skimp when you have the choice of buying your dog better food or medication. With each dollar you are willing to put into your dog, you are a step closer to giving them the longest life possible.