Ask Dr. B
How do I know when to euthanize my pet?
The picture above is of my sweet Pippa a few hours before we sent her onto her next journey. May 2022.
The question that I am asked most often is “how do I know when to euthanize my pet?” This is an absolutely agonizing decision. As pet parents we feel such a deep connection to our pets and feel a responsibility for their well being. These feelings can lead to guilt and uncertainty as our pets approach the end of their, woefully too short, lifespans. I don’t have the answers, but I can offer my thoughts as well as a safe and open space to discuss the options.
Like many of you, I see each animal as an individual being worthy of love and care simply because they exist. How, then, can we reconcile our love for them, our deep appreciation for them as individuals, and our need to focus on quality of life because their time here is so short? I struggle to understand how these two opposing truths can exist. Someone once said that their lives are so short because they have it all figured out, they are going somewhere better. While that may be true, how do we know when to let them go?
Deciding when to euthanize a dog, cat, or any family pet is an absolutely agonizing journey of emotions: fear, sadness, anger, denial, bargaining, guilt – they all make an appearance. You want to find that exact perfect moment when you optimize quality of life and minimize suffering, but how can we ever know where that point lies?
By nature of the process of aging and decline, we will only know where that inflection point is once it is too late – once we witness obvious suffering. Is it fair to let our closest companions arrive into suffering before we can let them go? Is it fair to not allow them the chance to thrive until they cannot?
You then land in the question of what really is life, what is the purpose of it all? Certainly as a human, with complex human emotions and relationships, I have no clue. How can I know for my pet? How can I know when they no longer want to push on for the joy of a snuggle or an exceptional scent? Do they mourn their lost tomorrows or do they truly live for the moment, and, if so, it is up to us to release them from the moment-to-moment suffering they face as their bodies fail?
All I know for certain is that there is no right answer, we make the best decisions we can, with the information we have, motivated by love. There is no right time, there is no perfect answer, because life, and death, are beautifully imperfect. There is only the time that is right for you and right for your pet. The decision can be filled with agony and guilt, but it can also be a chance to take control, to take back control of your fear and anger and lead with love. You can choose to allow them the freedom to pass surrounded by love and joy and acceptance that life is impermanent, and we are doing the best we can. Then you wait, patiently, until they greet you again at the Rainbow Bridge.
These words were born out of very raw feelings as I contemplated the right time to let my beautiful Pippa girl go in May of 2022. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the guilt and sobbed until my head ached. It’s hard because we love them. If you are contemplating end of life care for your pet or trying to figure out when it might be time to let them go, please reach out. I’d be happy to come along on that journey with you and provide space and understanding.
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