When is it Time to Say Goodbye to Your Pet?

You come home from a long day of work to find your typically lively, but senior retriever has barely moved from his bed. He looks to you with sad eyes, a look you envision may say ‘Sorry friend, I’m just far too tired.” Perhaps it has been days, maybe even weeks since this scene began repeating each time you return home. You’ve been putting off taking him to the vet because you’re afraid of what they might tell you – a truth that you can’t yet yourself come to terms with.

You knew this day would come but wasn’t it just yesterday you fell in love with the big brown eyes that peered lovingly from that shelter photograph? Wasn’t it just yesterday you were playing fetch on the beach, watching him forge into the tide and happily shake the ocean water, and soaking your skin? Time was a factor you relished, but now the clock was counting down far too quickly, and the prospect of saying goodbye strikes you with fear.

This is a scenario that almost all of us who have welcomed pets into our lives eventually encounter, or have encountered at one time or another. Losing a loved one is one of the most painful and difficult events that we experience. It can be as devastating as losing a human family member. It can be sudden and unexpected or planned and peaceful, in the case of humane euthanasia.

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of losing a pet is having to make the decision to say goodbye. Many clients are unsure if they are making the right decision for their loved one which may lead them to ask their veterinarian one of the most commonly asked questions that we receive. What would you do?

The best advice I give my clients is that as the pet’s ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’ they are the best person(s) to make a decision so important. As much time as I may have spent helping them and guiding them in the development or medical treatment of their fur-child, I could never begin to understand the strength of love and deep relationship that they exclusively share with their best friend. Because of this, I always ask a few important questions that usually help guide them to the right decision for them.

“Has Fluffy stopped eating, no matter what you feed her?”
“Has she lost her ‘spark’ at home, spending more time hiding or off by herself?”
“Does she look to be uncomfortable; have difficulty sleeping?”

If the pet-parent answers yes to any or all of these questions, we carefully breach the discussion of humane euthanasia. As well, I believe it is important for clients to recognize the reasoning behind their decision of whether or not to euthanize. After all, sometimes all of the evidence can be there for us – the lost ‘spark,’ the terminal illness, the inability to eat, the pain – and it can still be so very difficult to make the decision to say goodbye. In these cases, a client must truly evaluate whether they are prolonging the pet’s life for the sake of the pet or to perhaps prevent their own loss. For some, it is easier to have their loved one by their side but uncomfortable, rather than suffer the loss of such an important family member, despite euthanasia being the best decision for the pet.

Lastly, at times, an owner may feel pushed to make the decision to humanely euthanize due to the circumstances of their pet’s poor health. For example, many pets can develop terminal illnesses where the prognosis is extremely poor, or the pet may be in intractable pain that cannot be alleviated through the use of medication. It is circumstances like these, where I really try to help owners come to terms with the fact that providing more treatment may ultimately prolong a poor quality of life, rather than improving the quality of life.

In the end, you are your pet’s best friend and pet-parent, and a great responsibility comes to rest on your shoulders when the time comes to say goodbye. It is one of the most challenging parts of being human – the fact that loving something or someone so much makes saying goodbye only that much more difficult.

As a young veterinarian, I’ve always been told that I cannot make promises in a field where there are so many extraneous factors to control. Whether it be your pet’s genetics, their environment or their ability to fight illness and disease, there is one thing I can promise. I can promise that when your best friend lets you know, it’s time, and when you are ready to say goodbye – I will ensure that those goodbyes are the most peaceful and delicate and that your loved ones’ trip to the Rainbow Bridge will be made effortless and in love, just how they lived.

Written by Dr. Samantha Wambolt

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