How Will I Know it’s Time?

In my February post I shared that we had lost Duncan, our cat and a long time companion.  Because we had to make the decision to put him to sleep within a few hours of taking him to the vet I did a lot of research afterward.  I wanted to reassure myself that we had made the right decision and I wanted to add to my understanding for the future.

It goes with the territory, if you take on the responsibility of a pet you will be making many decisions about their welfare and possibly about ending their suffering.  Accepting a pet into your life requires some thought on how you will make that decision.

One of the first considerations is the comfort of your pet.  This is often hard to discern.  For example two dogs can both have the same type of health issue, one could obviously be injured but wagging their tail and the other may be yelping and crying in extreme pain.  The more stoic pet can make it difficult to determine their true comfort.  In our case, Duncan was just as affectionate if not more so as he progressed through the kidney disease.  This made us hesitant to make the decision until we were very clear that his body was shutting down and surgical intervention was not a viable option.

The second consideration is how is your pet managing their body functions.  I took Duncan to the vet that morning because he was very agitated getting in and out of the litter box.  It was clear he was in discomfort and that he was not able to defecate.  If your pet is unable to urinate or defecate on its own, or if they are unable to stand up or walk on their own you could determine their quality of life is fairly poor.

Is your pet eating?  If you are dealing with old age or an illness, once a cat or dog stops eating that’s often a clear sign that they are nearing the end.

If your pet has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you need to discuss the stages of the disease and potential treatments.  You need to ask yourself if you can afford treatment and if you’re willing to deal with the care that may be associated with any treatments.

One of the fundamental question you have to ask yourself, if it is in the best interest of your pet to extend their life or are you extending their life for your own personal needs?  That was really the fundamental question we were dealing with in Duncan’s case.  If we asked the vet to do surgery, it was not a good prognosis that he would even survive the surgery.  Then if we were willing to see Duncan only in the vet office for the next three days because he would have to be on intravenous fluids.  Then he would have to be taken back, possibly daily, to have more intravenous fluids.  We both knew that wasn’t the quality of life Duncan would want and that made the decision clearer.

Other considerations:

  • You may find that everyone feels free to tell you what to do, but the responsibility for this choice is yours. This can be more difficult when a couple disagrees, but it can still weigh heavily on a single person.
  • Your vet can delay but not prevent the inevitable. No veterinarian should make you feel guilty for choosing not to pursue treatment, even if you can afford it.
  • If your veterinarian is advising euthanasia and you’re reluctant, take a close look at your own motives and see if they’re for your benefit or your pet’s.
  • Choosing euthanasia allows you to be with your pet when they pass, so they are not alone.  But if you feel you cannot handle this it’s better not to be there.
  • Most people agree that it’s better to euthanize a day too early rather than a day too late.  People often say, “You’ll know when it’s time.” In many cases that’s true, but not always.  Considering how you would make the decision in advance of being faced with it can help you when that time comes.
  • Choosing euthanasia is not “playing God” any more than providing medical treatment to save a life is.

Most importantly, find reliable resources to educate yourself on health issues your pets may be facing at some time in their lives.  Your vet is one of the best resources, your local shelter or Humane Society is another.  There are many resources online that offer diverse perspectives on pet illnesses, treatment alternatives, euthanasia and behavior.

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One Response to How Will I Know it’s Time?

  1. Jen says:

    Thank you for this article, I’ve had to make this decision several times in the past few years and it never gets easier. I know that every time I have to stop and ask myself if I’m going to extremes of treatment because it is right for my pet or if I’m doing it because I’m not ready to let go. My veterinarian has always been a great resource in these times to help me clarify what route is best for my pets.

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