As our pets age and clearly start showing us signs of struggling, we are faced with making the decision of when to let go. Similarly, those with pets that have a chronic or recently diagnosed disease also must come to terms with the inevitable decision. Many are simply at a loss and unsure. Some may not be able to decide and essentially become emotionally paralyzed. Many people have experienced the regrets of waiting too long with another pet and are also afraid of saying goodbye too soon. As an end-of-life veterinarian, I hope to guide you in this difficult process, as long as you are not faced with trauma or serious illness that requires an urgent decision.
This decision can take some time for you to be able to step back and see things from a more objective and less emotional perspective. There is growing understanding and acknowledgment that the loss of a pet can be as painful, if not more so than losing the people in our lives. So I urge you at this time to honor your gut feelings and try not to be overly influenced by well-meaning friends or family. If they don’t live with and/or interact with your pet daily, or if they have never owned or been close to an animal, then they simply cannot understand all the aspects of your special relationship with your pet.
As long as there is not an urgent, quickly declining illness, there often is no “right” or “wrong” time to say goodbye. I truly make it my aim to guide you through all the emotions and uncertainty you are facing and come up with a plan that works for all involved. Know you will never be pressured, but instead guided, even if things may change. If needed, I will refer you to other professionals for additional help. It is truly a time to honor your pet and assure your decision is one you are at peace with.
Another situation I encounter from time to time is owners who do not believe in euthanasia. Because we as humans have the ability to humanely end the suffering of our companions does not mean it is the right decision for everyone. I do not feel it is my right to judge others’ beliefs but instead strive to help by providing adequate comfort and pain relief to the animal. I will discuss openly with you what I feel is possible to this end. And again, I will refer you to other professionals as needed.
Below are some suggestions regarding behavior that can help you to evaluate for yourself if the time is near.
- Changes in appetite or drinking
- Loss of interest in play
- Periods of confusion and unexplained vocalization
- Loss of ability to stand up
- Progressive difficulty breathing
- More bad days than good
- Financial or time constraints on the family.
- Physical restrictions of the caretaker(s).
Once the decision to euthanize has been made, there are a few things we recommend that you consider.
- Where do you want to say goodbye? (inside, outside, at a favorite place)
- Who do you want to be present?(family, friends, children, other pets)
- What are your aftercare wishes?(home burial, cremation with or without the return of ashes)
- How can I remember/honor my pet? (clay paw prints, memorial plaques, jewelry)
- Would you like a memorial service during or after the euthanasia?
How Do I Tell if My Pet is in Pain?
- Dog & Cat: How to Tell if Your Pet is in Pain? (PDF)
- Cat: Feline Grimace Scale
- Rabbit: Rabbit Grimace Scale (PDF)
Ideas for Pet Keepsakes
When evaluating quality of life, personalized patient and client information is needed to reach an educated, informed, and supported choice that fits not only the pet’s medical condition but also the family’s wishes. In short, quality of life applies not only to the pet; it also applies to the family.
SUGGESTIONS ON USING THIS QUALITY-OF-LIFE SCALE:
- Complete the scale at different times of day to note fluctuations, because most pets do better during the day and worse at night.
- Ask multiple family members to complete the scale; compare their observations.
- Take periodic photos of the pet to help remember his or her physical appearance.
The Last Battle
If it should be that
I grow frail and weak,
and pain should keep me from my sleep,
then you must do what must be done,
for this, the last battle, can’t be won.
You will be sad,
Don’t let your grief then stay your hand.
For this day, more than all the rest,
your love and friendship stand the test.
We’ve had so many happy years,
what is to come can hold no fears.
You’d not want me to suffer,
so when the time comes,
Please let me go.
Know in time you too will see,
it is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
from pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it should be you,
who has to decide this thing to do.
We’ve been so close,
we two these years.
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.