You’ve been together since he was 6 weeks old. You’ve endured the frustrations of puppyhood, constant chewing and house training. You’ve spent countless hours running, playing and relaxing together. He was there when you met her. He was there when she said yes. He never complained about the new crying family member that seemed to arrive out of nowhere and then used him as a jungle gym. You have both grown and changed so much together and, through your love and care, he’s managed to make it to (and probably past) his life expectancy.
Now his step isn’t as springy, his naps are longer, his walks are shorter, and his health problems—along with his medications—are growing. As much as you both have been through together, you want to be fair to him—but that selfish part wants to hang onto him as long as possible, as you know he would still crawl through fire for you. So you ask yourself and consult with your veterinarian, “How do I know when it’s time to let go?”
This is without a doubt the toughest question we veterinarians are asked. It’s tough because as scientific and clinical as our job can be at times, decisions like this still come with a lot of emotion and immeasurable grey areas. Oftentimes, we have also watched these pets grow and age, which makes us heavily vested emotionally. However, we know that our clients rely on us to give them unbiased, non-judgmental advice from a medical perspective, so above all, that is what we try to do.
Our job and goal is to get a complete understanding of the quality of the pet’s life at home. What we see in the office isn’t always what our clients see at home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a euthanasia consultation only to be greeted by a happy pet, tail wagging, who is staring a hole in the cookie jar on the counter. The owners will than say, “This is the happiest she’s been in weeks. At home, she just lays around and won’t eat.” It’s almost like our dogs know when they’re being brought in for that talk. Despite the clinical presentation, we start to unwrap how life looks at home. Is the pet happy? Is he eating well? Is she able to make it outside or to the litter box on her own to use the bathroom? The answers to these questions are just a few variables in a long equation we use to get our final answer.
It’s worth noting: regardless of what we vets say or think, the decision to put down a pet ultimately lies with you, the pet owner. I can tell you that if we think it is time, we will tell you honestly and compassionately, and most times, that is all people are wanting—they need assurance that what they are doing is the right decision.
In my 30+ years in this business, I have seen some cases where I thought the owners let things go too long, and others where I was sure there was still good quality of life left there. However, what I think really doesn’t matter in the end. These pets are your babies, and only you can know for sure when you are ready to let go. I cannot promise you that we will always give you the answers you want to hear, but I can promise you that whatever decision you make will be respected and honored without judgment. And our hearts will break right along with yours.
If you need to start the difficult conversation about the end of your pet’s life, please schedule an appointment at Pine Street Animal Hospital. We promise that we will use our medical expertise, combined with compassion and kindness, to help you make this difficult decision.