Many people tell me that they would LOVE to be a veterinarian, except that they “could never” put a pet down. They applaud the fact that I can, because the thought of such an act is incomprehensible to them. They are right. One would hope that the decision as to whether it is “time” is one that no one should ever have to face. However, life doesn’t work that way, and unfortunately, our pets often get to a point that we are forced with making that decision. I view the fact that we are able to help our pets on their final journey as a gift, and as a final act of kindness and healing. Many of our pets reach a stage of life that they are no longer happy, no longer comfortable and no longer having fun. The peaceful transition that I have seen with so many passings affirms the fact that we, as veterinarians, are performing a necessary act, as we are the entities that are trained to speak for our furry friends at all points of their lives, even at the end.
Recently, I have had quite a few clients face this last decision. I’ve been asked over and over again “how do I know it’s time?” I always tell clients that if they are even approaching me and asking me that question, that they are picking up from their pet, at some level, that the pet is tired and starting to ready themselves for their transition. I find the animals are far more matter-of-fact about life and death matters than we are. They seem to know that, when it’s time, they are ready to move on. They know they can’t move without help, they know, that despite all our efforts to the contrary, when we (as parents and veterinarians) can no longer manage their pain adequately, they have dignity and don’t like the fact that they can no longer get to their litter box or out the back yard. Food is no longer exciting (who doesn’t love a bit of hotdog or ice cream?) and you find that they just eat to appease you, because they love you and want to stay with you. Do their eyes light up and does their tail wag when they see you? Can they greet you the way they always had? Are we having good days and bad days? At some point, the bad days will outnumber the good. That is when we know it is time to make a decision.
We often hope that our pets will pass on their own, in their sleep and we won’t be forced to make “that” decision, however it doesn’t always happen that way. So when clients ask me what to look for, I ask a few questions….
a) is he eating/drinking normally? Does he not eat/only eat when you tempt him with something fabulous?
b) can he get around on his own, or does he require help? Is he able to support himself “doing his business” or does he fall over while squatting/lifting his leg?
c) is there any urinary/fecal incontinence issues in the house?
d) does he KNOW you when you come in the room? do the things that he used to love to do (ball/toy/seeing favorite person/other dog/cat) still cause an animated tail wag or acknowledgement of some sort?
e) is the pain (arthritis and otherwise) well managed?
Dr. Alice Villalobos developed a Quality of Life Scale that I have borrowed to include here, as it makes the decision a bit more clinical, and that does help some people wrap their heads around this most difficult decision.
Most of all, consult Dr. Jones or your veterinarian for guidance and thoughts on whether or not “it’s time”. This is a very difficult time for all involved, both two-legged and four, and we strive to make this final transition kind, peaceful, comfortable and loving…just like the life that you provided your beloved companion.