When Is It Time? – Making The Difficult Decision

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How can we make that difficult decision to end the life of a pet whom we have loved and nurtured, played with and lived with? The pet may have been with us for a short time or for many years. It may protect us, serve us, or just be there when we need something to cuddle.

Our domestic pets have maintained many of their wild instincts. One of the most important instincts, however, is to mask pain and illness. Many pet owners advised that their pet is suffering from a serious disease, comment: "But he's not acting very sick." But what happens to a wild dog or cat who "acts sick"? Invariably, they are killed by other animals, sometimes even by members of their own pack.

When we have to make that final decision we feel guilty, we are torn by feelings of helplessness, guilt, anger and sometimes the misguided notion that we owe it to the pet to keep it alive at all costs. How can I tell my veterinarian to give my pet an injection that will kill it?

When a pet becomes ill or is seriously injured, we must make a decision based on several factors. We must set realistic limits which include the emotional expense to the family, physical costs to the pet, and many times, unfortunately, financial cost. It is best for the family members, or the single owner, to sit down with all the facts in front of them and, as rationally as possible, set those limits. This is the fairest thing pet owners can do for the pet and for themselves.

An old cat lying and resting on the bed, When Is It Time? - Making The Difficult Decision

The Five Main Criteria For Euthanasia

So, when we come to that difficult decision-making time, we have to decide what is best for the pet. Regardless of the decision, we face the possibility of feeling guilty because we made the wrong one. We feel guilty if we elect to have our pet euthanized. We feel guilty if we choose treatment and it is unsuccessful. We should put ourselves in our pet's position. "What would I want to be done if I were in this situation"?

  1. Can your pet walk on its own, and how much pain does it suffer when walking?
  2. How are its sight and hearing, and what is the prospect that these problems can be reversed?
  3. Is there irreversible organ damage, i.e., heart, kidney, liver, or brain damage?
  4. Is there any humane veterinary treatment available?
  5. Is incontinence through urinary or bowel control a problem?

If an owner, after evaluating all the available information, decides euthanasia is necessary, he or she must tell the veterinarian. In those cases, the owner must realize that sometimes we have to love our pets enough to let them go.

The final decision must be made by all members of the family, you may have to overcome your feeling of love for the pet and consider what is the fairest for him. Do not let your emotions override the fact that your pet may be leading to a painful, suffering life.

What Makes It Difficult To Decide?

Whether death is swift and unexpected or whether it comes at the end of a slow decline, we are never fully aware of what a pet has brought to our lives until our companion is gone. Our involvement with the final outcome may be passive.

We are never quite prepared for the death of a pet

We may simply not pursue medical or surgical treatment in an aging pet. Perhaps its ailment has no cure and the best we can do is alleviate some of its sufferings so that it may live the remainder of its days in relative comfort.

Although an illness or accident may take your pet suddenly, everyone secretly hopes for a pet's peaceful passing, hoping to find it lying in its favorite spot in the morning. The impact of a pet's death, even so, is significantly increased when, as responsible and loving caretakers, we decide to have the pet euthanized.

Euthanasia is the induction of painless death. In veterinary practice, it is accomplished by intravenous injection of the concentrated dose of anesthetic. The animal may feel slight discomfort when the needle tip passes through the skin, but this is no greater than for any other injection. The euthanasia solution takes only seconds to induce a total loss of consciousness. This is soon followed by respiratory depression and cardiac arrest.

Doctors of veterinary medicine do not exercise this option lightly

Their medical training and professional lives are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Veterinarians are keenly aware of the balance between extending an animal's life and its suffering. Euthanasia is the ultimate tool to mercifully end a pet's suffering.

To request euthanasia of a pet is probably the most difficult decision a pet owner can make. All the stages of mourning may flood together, alternating rapidly. We may resent the position of power. We may feel angry at our pet for forcing us to make the decision. We may postpone the decision, bargaining with ourselves that if we wait another day, the decision will not be necessary.

Guilt sits heavily on the one who must decide

The fundamental guideline is to do what is best for your pet, even if you suffer from doing this. Remember that as much as your pet has the right to a painless death, you have the right to live a happy life.

Each of us mourns differently, some more privately than others, and some recover more quickly. Some pet owners find great comfort in acquiring a new pet soon after the loss of another. Others, however, become angry at the suggestion of another pet. They may feel that they are being disloyal to the memory of the preceding pet. That's why there's no need to rush into selecting a replacement pet but rather take the time to work through your grief.

Questions To Consider

To help you prepare for the decision to euthanize your pet, you need to answer the following questions. They are intended as a guide; only you can decide what is the best solution for you and your pet. Take your time. Speak with your veterinarian. Which choice will bring you the least cause for regret after the pet is gone? Start asking yourself:

  • What is the current quality of my pet's life?
  • Is my pet still eating well? Playful? Affectionate toward me?
  • Is my pet interested in the activity surrounding it?
  • Does my pet seem tired and withdrawn most of the time?
  • Is my pet in pain?
  • Is there anything I can do to make my pet more comfortable?
  • Are any other treatment options available?
  • If a behavioral problem has led me to this decision, have I sought the expertise of a veterinary behavior consultant?
  • Do I still love my pet the way I used to, or am I angry and resentful of the restrictions it's condition has placed on my lifestyle?
  • Does my pet sense that I am withdrawing from it?
  • What is the quality of my life and how will this change?
  • Will I want to be present during the euthanasia?
  • Will I say goodbye to my pet before the euthanasia because it is too painful for me to assist?
  • Will I wait in the reception area until it is over?
  • Do I want to be alone or should I ask a friend to be present?
  • Do I want any special burial arrangements made?
  • Can my veterinarian store the body so that I can delay burial arrangements until later?
  • Do I want to adopt another pet?
  • Do I need time to recover from this loss before even considering another pet?

Written by Davet

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5 comments on “When Is It Time? – Making The Difficult Decision

Kritter May 1, 2021
When my Siamese boy was 4 months old he was diagnosed with kidney disease & we were told he'd probably have between a few months & a few years to live. He's almost 4 yrs old & as happy & silly as ever. We get his kidney values checked every few months & he's been stable all along. This boy is magical for me & I've never been so in love!
bear February 3, 2019
Thank You Davet At 19 years, my longest business relationship is with the my cats' primary Vet and their office. It is hard for me to ask them to help me end the suffering of one of my friends. For many years they have helped guide me in healthful choices that have led to long lives, usually including extension of their lives. It is hard, yet it is necessary that I overcome those feelings. Additionally, even with long relationships with a Vet and office, they don't know how each pet owner will react to the need for the owner's decision. Those who know my relationships with my cats would feel that I would want to hold my friend through the end. However, I cannot. I am a 200 pound male. The tears flow when discussing why I have come to my decision. My Vet now understands that I must speak the reasons why, which takes additional time in the last visit. Each of us is different. Our Vet's only know we will react in one of many differing ways. It is best for we as pet owners to think in advance of the disposition of our kitty's remains. Knowing in advance can make the process smoother for us. Again Thank You Davet for putting these thoughts together to help us in making a thoughtful and caring decision for our good friends.
straycat15 June 14, 2015
I'm so sorry for your pain. I'm confident our pets want us to live guilt free. You've been a loving friend to yours and that's how you can continue to best help your pet here at her end. Let her go ASAP then move on guilt free knowing you did everything you could for her for years and when the time is right for your boyfriend and you, consider adopting another pet that you both choose. Peace be with you and her.
leigh3 June 16, 2014
I understand.  I have an 11 1/2 yr. old Maine Coon who has masses around her stomach.  Only meds have helped her feel better & increased her appetite.  There is no cure and this is only a temporary "fix".  Sometime in the next few days I will take her to the vet to be euthanized.  It's heart wrenching.  She's such a sweet cat, but if we love our pets we must think of them ahead of ourselves.  You have done so much to help her and the now the greatest kindness would be to end her suffering.  To my mind you've made the right decision. 
torn April 25, 2014
I've had my cat for 8 years. she is only 9 now. I adopted her at aprox 1 year. over the years she has been diagnosed with asthma, kidney stone, Irratable bowl disease, iratable bladder disease and now arthritis.  and now has lost 4 lbs in the past 5-7 months. i used to have to clean her butt about 3 times a day after going to the bathroom because she couldn't reach down there to clean it herself. she has always pee'd everywhere in my house. she has had multiple asthma attaches, has has sneezed blood out of her nose, she has thrown up all of her life. overall, she has had one thing after the other gone wrong with her. i have loved her like anyone could love something with outmost affection and committment. now, i am tired. she has been waking me up all hours of the night, multiple times. i moved in with my boyfriend a little over a year ago, and she has pee'd on the hardwood floors and rotting them out. he has been very patient. why i'm feeling guilty... the doctor said the next step is to get an ultrasound and more testing on her to see why she is loosing so much weight.  i don't want to put her through anymore pain. she has has her anal glands expressed several times, needles injected in her bladder a few times, blood drawn, multiple x-rays and she often goes to the bathroom when i take her to the vet. now, i have the vet come to me. my health has gone down hill. i have lived my life for my angel. i sit on the floor and brush her when i'm home..for hours. i have chosen to sleep on the couch and monitor her at night...(she wakes me up in the bedroom and wants me to go downstairs with her, if i don't, she poops on the floor.) my boyfriend and i are not on the same page..for obvious reasons. so, i'm torn. she has been demonstrating signs of pain...shivering...and she moans now. i'm putting her down on monday. the guilt is overwhelming. but i feel that doing it now, rather than later, is better. thouhts?

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