This is a tough topic for many people to deal with. It is charged with emotions that often cloud our ability to decide what to do. With veterinarian medicine as advanced as it is, we can keep our pets alive much longer than we could years ago, but to what end?
There are a few things that you need to consider when trying to decide if it is time to euthanize your pet or not.
- Is your pet in pain? This is not always easy to determine since animals in general do not show pain until it is severe. The signs may be subtle and come on gradually as age and illnesses increase. Your veterinarian can help you determine what illnesses your pet may have, and how it impacts their life, but that will be a generalization because every animal is different. Some tolerate pain much better than others. In the case of birds they may not show signs of illness until they are very sick.
It helps if you pay attention to your pet’s behavior. Do you notice that your pet does not move as well as before? Does your pet refuse to jump onto things whereas before they would fly through the air? Do they walk slower, run less, and are less active in general? Has their appetite and water consumption changed? Has their breathing changed, for example they pant more or sooner than before? Do they seem to hold part of their body still when they breathe? These are all signs of pain and/or illness.
- Does your pet have difficulty keeping food or water down? Has their overall appetite decreased? Is your pet eating a normal amount of food but losing or gaining weight?
- If your veterinarian suggests treatments you have to determine what the outcome will be for your pet. Will the treatment cause pain and suffering? How long can you expect your pet to live after the treatments? Will your pet be hindered for the rest of its life because of the treatments? If the treatments are painful or cause suffering such as a loss of appetite or physical difficulties is it worth it for your pet? You also must consider the cost of treatments and weigh if they will help your pet or just prolong his suffering.
- Has your pet’s toilet habits changed? A change in toilet habits can be a sign of dementia in a pet. A pet who cannot get up to go out or cannot control his bowels and bladder and will eliminate and lay in it, is a good sign that it is time to let them go. A pet that has abnormal eliminations, such as blood in either stools or urine, weak or strong urine, or who has trouble eliminating is a candidate for a serious evaluation. Has your pet’s stools and urine decreased or increased yet they eat and drink the same amount? This of course depends on what your veterinarian determines the problem is.
- Does your pet act as if they are lost? Some will cry out as if they are calling, “Where are you?” Some pets may stand with their face in a corner and not be able to find their way out. Some will stare at walls or have a blank look in their eyes. Some may not recognize their family members. Some may wander around the house or yard and not seem to know where they are. A pet may not respond to commands that they always responded to before, even though they hear you. These can be signs of mental degeneration.
- After all the considerations are evaluated, you must determine if the quality of your pet’s life is going to be better, tolerable or only prolong suffering.
- The most difficult part of the decision and perhaps the most important is determining how much of your own emotions are playing a part in your decision making. Are you trying to keep your pet alive because you cannot tolerate the thought of losing your pet? Are you keeping your pet’s well being as the main decision maker? This is the most difficult part of the decision-making process, separating your emotions and feelings from what is good for your pet. The biggest fear that many people have is that they are not making the right decision. Or they feel that they are letting their pet down by giving up, that something more can be done. This is why it is important to go over the points in this article. We all hope for a miracle, but they rarely happen. Letting a pet go is sometimes the kindest thing we can do for them. It helps if you have a friend who is not emotionally involved that you can go over the situation with, to help you see what is going on.
I know that sometimes it is hard for me to make that decision. For this reason I talk to my veterinarian before my pets age and let them know what I want to do in the event that my pets get a terminal illness or injury. Even though we cannot foresee the future, it helps my veterinarian guide me when the time comes. This helped me with a 17 year old cat that I dearly loved. When I took her to the veterinarian, she was having a cardiac arrest. I could not say the words to tell my veterinarian to put her down. But he knew my wishes ahead of time. It made it just a bit easier for me to not have to say it.
Deciding to let a pet go is never easy. No one wants the grief and loss that it brings. We all know that it may take a long time to heal and get over the pain. I know because I have had to go through it many times. For me, I take comfort in knowing that my pets will be in Heaven waiting for me, that they are going to a better place. This is one reason why I wrote my book God’s Creatures which you can see on my website, www.sbulanda.com
We all must deal with the loss of a beloved pet in our own way. As our pets come into our lives and then leave us, one after the other, the loss- and decision-making process never gets easier. But as good stewards of our pets, it is up to us to do what is right for them, even if it means our loss. Doing this is the deepest and most unselfish kind of love.
Once we lose our pets we have to deal with the grief. Everyone handles it in their own way. In the case of a pet who has suffered a prolonged illness, some people grieve for awhile before the pet dies. In those cases it can make the actual loss less painful. If there was no time before losing a pet to grieve, the full emotion of grief will come on right away. The pain can at times feel like physical pain. There are many ways to handle your feelings. Talking to someone who understands how much a pet can mean to you is one way. Attending a grief counseling group can also help. Some people find that volunteering at a shelter or rescue group helps.
If you know that your pet is getting on in years, getting a new pet before the pet passes can help ease the loss for some people. Providing of course that the new pet isn’t going to stress or harm the resident pet. Some people find that writing about the lost pet helps or designing a photo album dedicated to the pet. These are just a few ideas about how to go through the grief. The main thing to keep in mind is that time does heal. We may never fully get over the loss of a pet, one particular pet means more to us than any others, but we can enjoy the fond memories and love that the pet has given us.