How Do I Know When it is Time for Euthanasia?
Letting go of your beloved pet is the hardest thing an animal lover will ever go through. And what can make it even more agonizing is weighing the decision about whether to help them in their passing (or not), and the timing of any assistance. Doing it when you think it might be too soon can leave you with lasting guilt over whether you should have waited. But waiting too long can cause your pet unnecessary suffering. Watching them deteriorate day after day can be harmful to your own well-being. How do you know what to do?
If your pet has become so ill that your vet has suggested it might be time to consider euthanasia, it can reassure you to hear how your pet actually feels inside their body, AND what they want done about it. Pets always have a clear opinion regarding euthanasia. Hearing directly from them regarding how they are doing and what their ultimate wishes are helps you reach a decision about next steps, and to feel much more at peace about it too.
Some pets — even ones that were not elderly — have told me that they have had a full life and that they were ready to let go. I have known others who were very sick but just weren’t ready to pass yet because they had particular reasons they wanted to stick around a bit longer. It is very individual, just as it would be with humans. Some don’t want any more medical assistance, or they’ll tell me that they want every possible healing measure taken first. I’ve known some that for one reason or another, decided to slip away on their own without their human present. (Though you should know that this is a lot less common than you might imagine, or hope for.)
Several cases also come to mind where my clients were able to enjoy another couple of good months that went beyond what they (and their vet) ever thought they would have with their pet.
We are lucky that so many veterinarians make this a house call so that you can say goodbye in your own home without adding more stress to the situation. It’s really the best scenario, though unfortunately it's not always possible.
What to do if you think your pet is reaching the end of their life span
Based on countless cases I've worked on, here's my initial advice for you:
Get real. Take an honest assessment of your pet's current quality of life. Just like humans, aging and sick pets will have good days and bad days. But with our busy lives and the fog of emotions we might have concerning our sick pet, it's easy to lose track of symptoms and timelines. It helps you to get it down in black and white: keep daily track on a calendar so you have objective data. It will point out both trends, durations and the details. For instance, are they starting to have more bad days than good ones? Do their symptoms seem to be accelerating? Are they having more difficulty with their day-to-day living? This is important info for you to have at your side.
Take extra care of basic needs. It's normal for sick pets to become picky eaters or start losing their appetite altogether. (Be mindful if they start getting very thin, because wasting over time is a serious concern in and of itself.) Generally, dogs can go longer without food than cats can; when cats stop eating for several days in a row, it can be a trigger for organ failure. Keep your pet hydrated as well. Dogs are usually good drinkers but cats aren't as motivated towards frequent drinking. Chronic dehydration causes additional problems and is uncomfortable too. Try unsalted broth to get nutrients and liquid into them. Speak with your vet about appetite stimulants and anti-nausea meds — they can often make a big difference.
Plan ahead. Many times, I've spoken with clients who for one reason or another tried to wait things out, but their pet ended up going into a sudden, full-blown crisis. It often happens at night or on a weekend when their regular vet office is closed, so they find themselves rushing off in a panic to an unfamiliar ER. They typically then face serious pressure to make a euthanasia decision on the spot. Often, they're in a state of unprepared shock that it has suddenly come to this. I hate to see this happen — it's not a good situation for anybody, and you'd be surprised how often this scenario happens. Its much more advantageous to pre-plan through a session with your pet and to have an honest, supportive discussion regarding their wishes, timing and next steps.
Of course, no one relishes having to think about the end, but it's far preferable to face it now than leaving it up to later indecision and fate. The clients I work with appreciate that they now have info directly from their pets, plus my support to help them before, during, and after a passing.
Many of my clients are single and need assistance even more because they don’t have a partner to talk these issues over with. And even my partnered clients benefit from having an objective outsider's help with their decision-making process. After we've worked together, my clients always say that they no longer have nagging guilt about their decisions, and they feel more at peace that they made the right choices. The peace of mind achieved through working this way helps them through their grief. Most importantly, it honors their pet’s final wishes. Book a Discovery Session to learn more.