Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy

|| August 15, 2016

Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy. It’s by far one of the most challenging parts of being a veterinarian. We live and breathe to help animals in any way we can. Unfortunately, at times that includes ending their suffering through euthanasia. So as hard as this topic is to discuss, I want to bring up a few things that may make the situation a little easier if you ever have to go through it. Paw_in_Hand_copy.jpg

Determining if your pet has a good quality of life is very important when deciding if it’s time to let them go or not. Things that I consider when evaluating quality of life are:

  1. Pain – This can be obvious, acute pain like you would imagine with a broken bone or trauma, but it can also be pain or suffering that you would experience with chronic disease. For example, think about when you are sick with the flu and have nausea, muscle aches, severe lethargy, etc.
  2. Eating and drinking normally  Many dogs and cats live to eat, so if they are not eating, this is an indication that they don’t feel well. Missing one or two meals may be okay or not, depending on the pet.
  3. Urinating and defecating normally – Most of our pets are trained to go to the bathroom outside or in the litter box. If they stop being able to “go” where they normally “go,” this is an indication that something is wrong. Some pets may even feel like they’re in trouble because they had an accident inside.
  4. Interacting normally – Does your dog or cat like to sleep in your bed but now cannot? Do they still greet you at the door when you come home? Are they hiding from you? Do they not want you to pet them anymore? Try to think back on how your interactions used to be prior to your pet getting sick. Are your interactions different now?
  5. Do they still do what they love? – Does your dog still like to go for walks/runs, fetch, or play with you? Does your cat still groom or play? Every pet has his or her favorite pastime. Is your pet still doing that activity?

There can be many other factors to consider, but these are the ones that I consider most. At some point, you may have to set boundaries on each of these points to determine your pet’s overall quality of life and when to say goodbye.

Sometimes, we don’t have to weigh the different aspects of quality of life, as something tragic happens and you know immediately that it’s time. Other times, it may be something that you think about for weeks. Either way, when that day comes, it’s never easy. Here are some things I want you to know and to consider:

  1. It’s okay to cry! – We understand that you are losing a dearly loved part of your family and that this pet has likely been with you longer than some of your human relationships. We will try to be strong for you, but occasionally we may cry with you. It’s very sad! There’s no need to apologize for showing emotion. We just want to be there for both you and your pet.
  2. Think about whether or not you want to be present for the euthanasia. – I know this may be very hard, but your pet will likely appreciate you being there in the final moments. If it’s just too hard for you, don’t worry; we will be giving him or her a ton of love for you!
  3. Would you want your pet cremated, or do you have a place that you would like to bury your pet? – I know this is impossible to think about, but it’s something that has to be decided and may be easier to think about prior to the actual time of the euthanasia. Once again, there is no wrong answer, and we are here to provide you what you are comfortable with.

I truly do understand how challenging this is to think about, let alone go through. I hope that going through some of these points may help you in your time of need. Also, WVRC has partnered with Red Oak Counseling in Elm Grove to provide a free monthly pet loss support group. All Red Oak staff are licensed professionals.

Please know that everyone at WVRC is here for you and your pet if you ever have to go through this difficult process.

– Kerri Wiedmeyer, DVM

WVRC - ER Veterinarian