When Is the Right Time to Say Goodbye to a Beloved Pet?



Written by: Dr. Chip Coombs

Unquestionably, the most difficult time for any pet owner is being faced with the decision as to when is the right time to let their pet go. Even for seasoned owners, who have had the privilege of pet companionship over many years, it is a very difficult time emotionally. Every veterinarian has heard some of their clients say that they will never get another pet and their reasoning is that they never want to face the dreaded decision ever again.

For most of us, there is no such thing as an ideal time to let your friend go. If one accepts that there is no perfect time, that would imply that one either makes the decision a little too late or a little too early. Remembering that getting the timing just right is not likely to happen through all the emotional upheaval that accompanies such a decision. One has to focus on the most important consideration and that is what is best for you pet. Such reasoning would nudge you to try to make the decision a little too soon, rather than a little too late. The one thing no one wants is for their pet to suffer by having the decision delayed.

Perhaps having to make this decision is a result of a severe accident, chronic or debilitating illness or just having the vintage years finally catch up with your best friend. Regardless of the reason you are being asked to make this decision, the key aspect is to consider the overall quality of your pet’s life going forward. It is very difficult to not consider your own feelings and the heartbreak that comes with letting go. Most of us would give anything to have just a little bit more time. The question to ask though is if prolonging this tough decision in your best interest or that of your pet’s? After a lifetime of constant, unconditional love and attention, this is the one time that your pet is counting on you to make a decision that is best for them.

Modern medicine is constantly improving and the ability to live longer, in spite of hurdles, is ever increasing. This not only applies to people, but also to our pets. However, the essence of our existence is still based on quality over quantity. No one wants to play God and be forced to make a life ending decision, but there is no one else who can make it. Your veterinarian can offer some guidance, but ultimately the decision and heartbreak are yours.

For families with children, it is generally recommended that children be part of the decision-making process. Obviously, the age of the children will determine how it is presented, for one doesn’t want to risk them thinking that life is not cherished. However, if it is explained to them that their pet is suffering and the pet’s life is far too important to have them suffer needlessly, most children will understand their pet’s forthcoming relief. In many cases, they are far more accepting than adults. Don’t be surprised if your child is keen to find another pet far sooner than you are.

The process for humanely euthanizing a pet will vary a little from one veterinary practice to another. Most commonly a sedative is given upon arrival to minimize any stress that your pet may be feeling. They will certainly pick up on your emotional state. An intravenous catheter is placed in one of the leg veins and an injection of barbiturates is given that will stop the heart within seconds. It is painless and very quick. Many owners don’t appreciate just how quick, anticipating that it is a prolonged process. From your pet’s perspective, it is an ideal way to leave this world.

Making a life decision for one’s pet should never be taken lightly, as it is a privilege in veterinary medicine and has only fairly recently being acknowledged in human medicine, as being a humane option when the end of life has come. Of all the medical and surgical challenges that face veterinarians on a daily basis, euthanizing a pet is the most difficult. Not surprisingly, veterinarians can require counseling to help them deal with the emotional toll. It is assumed that it comes with the professional job, and it does, but not without effect. In spite of having to face this challenge on a regular basis, when a veterinarian has to make the same decision for their own pet, it will cause the same angst and heartbreak that it causes for their patient’s owners.

For all the emotional trauma that euthanasia brings to the entire family, another aspect upon which to focus are all the wonderful memories and countless moments of joy that your pet has brought to you. This will not only help with the grieving but will also help suppress the thought of “never again”. There is no question that it will take time for your heart to heal, but heal it will, in its own time, and when it does you hopefully will be willing to consider having another set of furry feet bringing new fun experiences and laughter to your life.


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