Hospice care for a fuzzy pal
April 3, 2016 8:03 AM   Subscribe

My ferret/only real pet has just been diagnosed with an incurable condition, and I want to make every moment I have left with him wonderful. How to cope and tips for creating a good quality of life? Snowflakes within.

So, my little ferret is in the hospital, currently we're stabilizing him so he can come home. He's been diagnosed with insulinoma, which I'm aware most ferrets get at some point, to some degree. The problem is this is happening much earlier than I expected, and he was in such good health for many years and my vet had said he had at least another 3-4 years ahead of him. Now I may only have half a year to a year left. The vet says it was something that couldn't really be prevented, but I feel awful.

The bigger problem is that this is happening during one of the most stressful times I've had in my life, and this pet is really the only one I've ever had/truly bonded with. He's won a lot of hearts, and is basically a small cat(he's free-roam and very cuddly). I'm losing what was essentially the childhood pet I was never allowed to have, so I've never experienced this kind of thing.

So my questions to those who've cared for ferrets/cats/small pets who are not long for this world: What little things made the process easier for your pet(other than meds/general care)? And how to deal with the guilt and realization of the void this will leave in my daily life?

Personal experiences/stories are welcomed and appreciated as well.
posted by InkDrinker to Pets & Animals (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First: I'm so sorry. I don't have a ferret, but my brother does, and they are so loving and bright and intelligent. This will be a huge loss and will be very hard. Big hugs to you. And it's hard even at the best of times - but when you're stressed... wow, it can be crushing.

My story: in February 2014 I lost my 15 year old Siamese and best pal the week I defended my Ph.D. dissertation. I was in another city while my best pal was in the kitty hospital. I was entirely unfocused and a complete mess. As soon as I was told I passed my defense, I burst into fat hysterical tears and told my entire committee that my cat was dying and she was all I could think about. I got so drunk that night that I forget most of it other than the fact that I was in total despair.

I got home and we brought her home for a few days, she didn't improve, and within a week she had to be put down. I was inconsolable. I had all of the supports in the world: a loving and supportive husband, my family, my friends... but it was still really difficult. I was depressed for awhile and had to make some temporary modifications to my anxiety/depression/OCD meds so I could continue to go to work and function.

I made it out okay - but give yourself permission to be a mess for awhile, knowing that it will pass. Here are some thoughts that helped me:

1. Your ferret doesn't understand time or illness the way you do. Do what you can to provide love and comfort and know that it's the absolute best you could do.

2. Lean on your supports. You will need them. What you're going through is not trivial.

3. Don't be hard on yourself or rush yourself. Take things day by day and make sure you stay hydrated, sleeping as much as possible, and getting out occasionally to get sun on your face and see people.

4. I used to tell myself that my life was taking me coursing through raging rapids. I could fight them and make myself even more exhausted, or I could just let the rapids carry me to the end. I'm a worrier: so I waste a lot of time and energy worrying and fretting over things I can't change. I had to remind myself that I had a hand in making my journey more difficult with my worry and anxiety. It's a difficult thing to manage.

5. Keep a journal if you can. Don't worry about writing in it every day - just write how you are feeling. Keeping a journal is often my lifeline when everything feels chaotic.

You are going to be okay. Best of luck and I wish you comfort and strength in your difficult time.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:56 AM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

You speak of guilt. You have nothing to feel guilt over. You will, but know that it's your brain tricking yourself, and not real. We feel guilt because it's our way of assuming control over the uncontrollable: our brain logics this out like this: if it is something we did that caused this tragic event causing pain in our lives, then we can make sure we don't do it in the future, and by doing so, avoid that pain. Unfortunately, that's not the way it really works.

I lost my cat two years ago. In some ways, it's better than most separations: he had to be rehomed. He developed a chronic illness that required more round-the-clock monitoring: he was rehomed to a family that could handle that, as I live alone. But I raised him since he was a kitten, and I still miss him.

This will hurt. That's a function of your love for him. Be kind to him, but be kind to yourself as your emotional wound heals. Don't jump into the next pet, but don't forever close your heart to them, either.
posted by WCityMike at 10:02 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your vet may have already told you, but keep some Karo syrup (even pancake syrup works) around to rub on his gums with a q-tip if he crashes. Otherwise, love him and play with him if he wants and make sure you always get him his medication pretty much on time, and watch to see if it starts to upset his stomach, because there's other stuff he can have to help with that.
posted by dilettante at 10:08 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am typically more generous to the pets -- more treats, more whatever it is they like but is inconvenient for me. As a general rule, people don't regret putting their pet to sleep but regret waiting so long.(I have only had cats so have no specific ideas about ferrets.)

One thing to note: there are two kinds of people, those who need to be pet-free for a while to mourn and those who immediately want another animal in the house. Whichever kind you are is okay, and either taking time out or getting a new pet quickly is okay (as long as you don't expect the new animal to be the same as the old one). m
posted by jeather at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have a back yard to take your critter out to? On a leash and halter, of course. I take my three legged, senior dog to the park. He doesn't run around much anymore but he gets to lay in the sun and watch and smell what's going on. I bring a book and a drink and somtimes we stay for hours.
I've been thinking about having a party/open house for him where all his favorite people can come by and have some munchies and love on him.
Do ferrets like to swim? It might be fun for him if you fill the tub up for him and have a little pool party with toys and your undivided attention.
I don't know much about ferrets but most creatures like to be outside and feel the sun and breezes.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:00 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

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