Deciding when to say goodbye to a beloved companion is one of the most difficult decisions a pet owner will eventually have to face. Sometimes these decisions loom on the horizon for a while, while other times they come on suddenly and unexpectedly. No matter how long you have to plan, these choices are never easy. While you are ultimately the only person who can make this decision for your pet, we’re here to support you however we can during the process.
In this article we’ll be covering some of the most common questions pet owners have when dealing with end of life planning, offering our perspectives, and linking to resources that can help you navigate these challenges, all in hopes of helping you answer the question every pet owner dreads facing: How do I know when it’s time?
Quality of Life
Quality of life is a phrase you hear a lot in these conversations, but what does it actually mean?
Quality of life is a broad term used to describe and average a number of factors, such as pain, mobility, hygiene, appetite, and activity. It’s important to note that quality of life is a relative term, and a “good” quality of life will look different for different pets; if you have a lapdog who’s happy cuddling on the couch, low mobility is less detrimental than it would be in a retriever who loves hiking and swimming.
Some key quality of life indicators to pay attention to include:
Changes in quality of life are often the first thing owners notice, and this may spark other questions or considerations. It can sometimes be hard to tell whether a pet is approaching the end of their life, or whether their symptoms are a temporary low they may recover from.
Since this is a deeply emotional topic for any pet owner, it can often be helpful to use tools and outside resources to get a clearer, more objective understanding of your pet’s quality of life:
Even once you’ve decided euthanasia is the next step, you’ll likely still have plenty of questions. When should you book an appointment? What will this appointment be like? Will your pet feel pain as they pass? What happens with their remains?
If you know in advance that it's time, you can call us to book your pet's final visit with us. We typically recommend that you schedule this appointment for the end of the morning or afternoon, when the hospital is a little more quiet. However, sometimes your pet declines faster than you anticipate and it becomes clear that they are in too much pain or discomfort. In this case you can call us to come in on short notice.
When you arrive for the appointment a technician will bring you, your pet, and any other friends or family present into our consultation room. An intravenous catheter will be placed; this may occur in the room with you, or your pet may be brought into our treatment area while the catheter is placed, then returned to the room with you.
Once the catheter is placed your pet will be administered a sedative to ease any pain and anxiety, followed by an injection that will induce loss of consciousness and death without causing pain or distress. The process is short and painless; it will be over in a matter of seconds. Your pet won’t be aware of their own passing.
We partner with Final Gift Pet Memorial Center for cremation and other aftercare services, enabling them to pick up remains from and deliver ashes and memorial products to our clinic or to your home, but this is only one of the many options available to you. Some pet parents prefer to make arrangements with other pet aftercare services, or to bring their pet’s remains home for burial, both of which we’re happy to accommodate.
A Word on Grief
It’s normal and expected to feel grief after the loss of a pet, just as you would after the passing of any other family member. Indeed, grief is a healthy response and an important part of the healing process. Talking about grief is one of the best ways to work through it, especially if others in your household are feeling similarly; some family members may even be thankful someone else has broached the topic.
Of course, friends and family can only do so much. If you’re struggling with grief and need additional support, there are resources available. Tufts University operates a Pet Loss Support Hotline, and Ohio State University’s Honoring the Bond Program has compiled numerous readings, videos, support groups, and other resources to help pet owners dealing with grief.
Grief is normal, and showing these emotions or asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. If you’re struggling after the loss of a pet, please don’t hesitate to reach out or utilize the resources above- we know it’s what your pet would want for you.