This post was on our original blog, written by me in September 2014. Since then, many of our customer pets have passed away and we had one of our own kitties unexpectedly pass away in Sept 2018. The sad fact is that pets just don’t live long enough for us to ever be ready to lose them. I hope anyone who has lost a pet or is in the situation of knowing an old or sick pet may pass away soon can be comforted knowing that so many other pet lovers out there can empathize and understand the pain of losing a loved pet.
Euthanizing a Beloved Pet…How Do You Know if it is Time?
A month or so ago I posted a question on my Facebook page in reference to my dog Taiga who was starting to have trouble walking due to degenerative myelopathy. The question…how do you know if or when it is time to euthanize a beloved pet?
Many of the responses, along with heartfelt condolences, came from people who had personal experience in the matter, and they all spoke of a sense of “just knowing” when it is time.
My personal experiences with losing beloved older pets had all happened due to the natural death of the pet. All of the dogs and cats my parents and I had while growing up lived to very ripe old ages, and all passed away naturally in the home after I had left home to start my own life. I had never had to make a life or death decision in regards to a pet of my own, and I was unsure of what to do. For the past couple of years, I have been mentally trying to prepare myself for Taiga not being around forever, simply because of his age. Since he was a shelter dog and was full grown when I adopted him, I wasn’t sure of his exact age, but giving that the vet and shelter said he was “about two” when I adopted him in 2002, even by my not so stellar math skills that makes him “about fourteen” which is a very old age for his breed. It has just been fairly recently, however, that his abilities and health had begun declining to a point where I began to question myself about what I could do for him.
I began doing internet searches for “euthanizing older dog” and similarly worded searches. While it is somewhat comforting to see how many others are asking the same question, and to read stories of so many who have personal experience in the matter and all giving their thoughts on how they came to the decision, it wasn’t making it any easier for me to make a decision. Taiga would have good days and bad days, and about the time I would start wondering if it was “the time,” he’d seem to be a bit better and I’d stop dwelling on the thought and just enjoy being with him.
The American Humane Association website lists the following signs to indicate it might be time to euthanize a pet to prevent suffering:
- Chronic Pain
- Frequent vomiting or diarrhea that causes dehydration and/or weight loss
- Pet stops eating and only eats if force fed
- Incontinence that causes the pet to frequently soil him/herself.
- Lack of interest in all or nearly all of previously favored activities
- Inability to stand and walk unassisted or often falling down when trying to walk
- Chronic labored breathing or coughing.
In Taiga’s case, he had lost about 30 lbs over the course of the past year or so, but was still very enthusiastic about eating and treats. He was beginning to have trouble walking, and it was getting difficult for him to stand from a lying down position because he was losing the function of his back legs. He was also starting to lose control over his bowels so that when he was struggling to stand up, he would sometimes have accidents in the house. Finally, he seemed to pant and breathe heavily more often, and while it was sometimes from the heat, I also suspect some of it was caused by stress, anxiety or possibly pain.
In the end, it seems as though the decision just happened for me. The evening of Sunday, Sept 7 was very restless for him and therefore for me, and sometime in the night he woke me up by standing next to the bed panting. I put my arm around him and he slowly sank to the floor and sighed heavily. The next morning I called the veterinarian and made an appointment for him. I wasn’t ready to commit to anything, so I just said I wished him to be examined, and the first appointment was in 2 days on Wednesday.
After making the appointment, I left Monday morning to do my pet sitting appointments and when I came home, Taiga was clingy and anxiety ridden to the point where I couldn’t even stand up without him scrambling to try and stand so he could follow me wherever I might be going. Instead of dozing as he typically did in the afternoon, he just layed there with his head up and eyes closed, panting. I called the vet back a bit after noon, explaining the situation and and asked if they had a sooner appointment, which they did. I made the appointment for that evening at 5:30. Don and I had an unusually quiet afternoon with no appointments so as we spent the time watching TV, I sat on the floor so Taiga could put his head on my lap and I hugged him and petted him and stroked his ears and just loved him.
Upon arriving at the veterinary office, I promptly burst into tears when the woman at the front desk asked if she could help me. We went to a room and the veterinarian on call came in to do an examination. She was very understanding and helpful and her words were comforting to me when she said she was a believer in the quality of life of the pet. We discussed Taiga’s quality of life and his limitations, and potential steps we could take to alleviate those limitations, but in my heart I knew there wasn’t much that could be done, and trying any sort of treatment would only be prolonging the inevitable and further causing him anxiety, distress and possibly pain. I declined to try treatments and the euthanasia procedures began.
Once all the papers were signed and payment rendered, the veterinarian was very good at explaining what the steps were and what could happen, both she and the technician were very clear that I could take all the time I needed and let them know when I was ready. I spent about 5 or 10 minutes alone with Taiga in the room. I don’t even know what I was thinking about; I was just crying and hugging him, knowing I was doing the right thing, but it was so hard to let go. When the vet tech finally came in to say he would be right outside the door whenever I was ready, I said it was ok and I was ready now. He called the veterinarian in and so it began. The procedure itself was quick and without incident, my beloved dog went to sleep for the last time as I was holding his head in my hands and rubbing his ears.
While my heart is heavy and the empty space is vast where his lovable furry bulk used to take up at my feet no matter where I happened to be sitting, I have felt a sense of relief and a clarity that I made the right choice. Euthanasia literally means “easy death” or “painless death” and I am glad I was able to offer that to my wonderful dog rather than allowing him to suffer and decline in a gradual, painful manner.
They say all dogs go to heaven, and I rest assured that Taiga is in a much better place now free of pain and free of the limitations his aging body had placed upon him.
Rest in Peace Taiga
Dog of my heart.
This very thorough, well done article called “Time to Let Go” by Sarah Hartwell/Cats Protection League and edited by the Dog Breed Info Center was helpful and informative. I hope that anyone else who is struggling to make a decision about an aging or ill pet will find information and comfort from this post and others out there. I think that knowing what to expect and hearing others’ stories and experiences makes it easier to decide what is best for you and your pet.