How will I know when it is the right time to say goodbye to my pet?
Unfortunately, as pet caretakers, most of us will inevitably have to ask ourselves this question. When a pet receives a diagnosis of a terminal illness or is experiencing a debilitating disease process, it can be very overwhelming and emotional. Suddenly it is up to you to know when it is time to make a decision regarding humane euthanasia. Having someone say “you’ll know when its time” is not always helpful. Most caretakers tell me that they wish the decision would be taken out of their hands and that their pet would pass peacefully in their sleep. The reality, however, is that the peaceful scenario that most of us would want for our dear pets only occurs in a small percentage of cases. The real question comes down to asking ourselves about our wishes for our pets during their final years, months, and days and what we want for their death experience when the time comes.
As this topic can be uncomfortable and even paralyzing, I have found it helpful to consider a pet’s overall Quality of Life (QOL) by breaking it down into a variety of meaningful categories that can be subjectively or objectively assessed. There are numerous QOL scales available in searching the internet. I personally like and use the QOL scale by Dr. Alice Villalobos. I also believe the pain scale created by Dr. Shea Cox can be a valuable tool in helping to assess your pet. I have provided a link to these scales below.
Categories considered in a QOL scale are many. They include, but are not limited to, pain, nutrition, hydration, hygiene, happiness, and quality of mobility. The particular scale referenced here also asks caretakers to weigh the good days versus the bad days and ask oneself what constitutes a good day in the life of the pet. I will also typically have my clients decide on a few very specific criteria that they feel are most meaningful to themselves and their pets and will suggest following trends.
Another factor of great importance is the human caretaker’s own quality of life. Caring for a sick or aging pet can understandably create a huge source of guilt, grief, and anxiety for many people and their families. It is highly encouraged to consider ones own resources, schedule, support system, and various responsibilities of life when making decisions for our pets.
In short, there is no simple answer nor a “one size fits all” for this question. Every situation is unique and requires consideration of a variety of important factors. If you are struggling with this decision, you are very normal and not alone. We are here to offer support and guidance whether on an initial phone call or during a Quality of Life assessment at your home. During a QOL assessment, all of the above and more are evaluated and discussed in depth. Additionally, a detailed conversation will take place regarding what is to be expected with your pet’s health moving forward and what will happen during the euthanasia process. Although this decision is not an easy one to make, we aim to give you as the caretaker the information and support needed to empower you to make the best decisions for your pets.