When your sweet dog or cat is declining in health, it can be very, very difficult to work through the many decisions you have to make. Here are some tools offered to support you with navigating this important time with your pet.
Evaluate your pet
How do you know if your pet is in pain? Both cats and dogs are often incredibly stoic – meaning, they hide their pain. This is a protective mechanism that wild animals developed to keep them safe from predators. It means that it can be hard for many pet owners to accurately assess their pets’ condition.
- Has your pet stopped eating?
- Do you need to coax her to take food?
- Will she only eat out of your hand?
- Has your cat stopped grooming himself?
- Does your dog refuse to get up, even to relieve himself?
These are just a few of the signs that may indicate your baby is getting ready to go.
Please review the Signs of Pain in Your Pet for more details. You can also complete the Quality of Life Worksheet to capture status for your dog or cat right now. Then you can compare to the results from today to how your pet is doing in a few days or a week, to better track any changes or downward progression in condition.
At least as important is understanding your own value system and priorities in making this decision.
For some people, euthanasia for their pets is simply not an option, due to religious, cultural or family beliefs. If you feel strongly that you would never be willing to end your pet’s life because of your belief system, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s your decision only.
However, please communicate this to your veterinarian. It will be important for your vet to educate you about how this terminal condition will manifest for your pet — what symptoms will your dog or cat suffer, how he or she will deteriorate, and what it will look like as her life nears its end.
A so-called “natural” death can be difficult to witness. It is uncommon for pets to die peacefully in their sleep. It can happen, but it is rare. More often, it happens when the pet is conscious, during the daytime or in the evening. It can be traumatic, depending on the illness that your pet is suffering. It might involve seizures, a stroke, fainting, tremors, and/or inability to breathe. Seek out information on what your pet may go through, so that you can be as emotionally prepared as possible.
Your vet can also help you with prescribing the appropriate pain medications for your pet. There are many options available, and this is very, very important, particularly because pets are stoic and may hide their pain, and also because a slow degradation of symptoms may mean that you, your pet’s caretaker, don’t notice how bad things are. The pain may be worsening but because you are there every day, you might not catch the signs. If you choose not to euthanize (or even if you do), it’s very, very important to be proactive in providing medications that stay ahead of the pain. One of the most common sources of guilt after a pet has died is when the owner did not take appropriate measures to prevent suffering.
It’s often preferred to make the hard decision earlier
Because of all of these factors, many people who go through this experience say that they wish they had acted sooner, or that they are glad they took the decision to euthanize their pet before it got worse.
It is impossible to know when the right time will be.
Another myth around pet death is “Your pet will tell you when it’s time.” Yes, sometimes it’s clear and there are obvious signs that the animal is ready to die. Often though, there are not. Remember, all beings want to live – and your little dog or cat truly loves you and wants to be with you and doesn’t want you to go through all the sadness of losing her. I have seen people wait too long (and I have done so myself) in an attempt to wait until the pet conveyed that they were ready. Often, that sign never comes.
A guideline which I find to be valuable in these situations is, better to do it sooner, when you can control the circumstance and make it a “good death” where those who love your pet can be there, and it’s calm, and in the right setting… than to wait too long and have it turn into an emergency situation where you are rushing to the clinic and a complete stranger administers the final euthanasia drug because your regular vet is not available.
I know how much you love your pet. I love mine, too. And yet, the way I choose to show the ultimate love is making the hardest decision of all and letting them go on a good day.