If you’ve ever had a dog or cat who has lived with you for many years, you know that they undoubtedly become a member of your family. So when you notice them slowing down or, worse, showing signs of pain, you might wonder whether your precious pet is nearing the end. And while we know this is the last thing you want to face as a pet owner, we all also realize that it’s an inevitable part of opening our hearts and homes to these wonderful animals.
As veterinarians, we often get the question: But how do I really know when it’s time? Pets rarely pass away on their own, so euthanasia is almost always on the table during these discussions. And while there is no easy cut and dried answer, there are things to consider when deciding whether it’s time to let your pet go, and we discuss them in the blog post below.
What Are Some Signs That My Pet Is Nearing the End Of Their Life?
As any veterinarian will tell you, this is really just about knowing your dog or cat. Whether you’ve had the pet for two years or 10 years, you likely have a good handle on their behavior and, more importantly, their quality of life. If your pet is still enjoying a good quality of life, it’s likely not yet time to consider euthanasia.
Sometimes, however, our pets show us clear signs that they are nearing the end of their lives, and some of these are below:
- Your pet shows signs of pain, such as trouble getting up or down
- Your pet stops eating or drinking or drastically reduces intake
- Your pet stops generally enjoying previously loved activities
- Your pet avoids family interaction
If your cat or dog has shown any or all of the above signs, they may be telling you that it's time to let them go.
Another thing to look for is whether your pet can get up and out of the way of their own accidents inside the home. This isn’t as often discussed as the previously mentioned signs but veterinarians know there is plenty of truth to the fact that pets feel shame during these incidents/accidents, so this is also something be aware of.
Should I Take Extreme Measures to Prolong the Life Of My Pet?
This is very subjective and, when it comes to considering extreme measures to lengthen the life of a beloved pet, it’s necessary to look at both the pet’s situation and the family. There are often monetary and time considerations that need to be looked at, and not everyone’s financial situation is the same. Some people can comfortably spend a mortgage payment on their pets while others, quite simply, cannot. It’s a matter of taking a step back and examining the time and money that would be spent on such measures and also how much time your veterinarian thinks any extra procedures might get you with your pet.
How Do I Know If My Pet is Just Slowing Down Or Is Actually Reaching the End of Their Life?
Hopefully, your pet has received good veterinary care throughout their life, as this is what will help to gauge this. If your dog or cat has been on a good wellness plan, your veterinarian will have baseline lab work to see if any measures or medications given are making a difference compared to the blood work taken before a disease or illness has taken hold.
For example, if your cat develops Diabetes, comparing baseline blood tests with post-meds lab work will help to tell you whether the treatment has gotten your cat’s proteins under control. And, again, these considerations are also driven by time and budgetary constraints.
How Can I Make My Pet Comfortable At the End Of Their Life?
First and foremost, you need to know what’s making them uncomfortable, so seeing a veterinarian at the first signs of any pain is a must. At that point, we can decide whether to treat the underlying issues, the pain, or both. For instance, a dog might come in with Lymphoma but also with a mouth filled with infected teeth. We might decide not to treat the Lymphoma if the dog is quite old and the prognosis isn’t good, but we can treat the painful teeth with antibiotics. You obviously want your pet to be as comfortable as possible throughout their lives.
Will My Veterinarian Tell Me Whether to Euthanize My Pet?
The answer to this is most likely no, but your veterinarian should be intimately involved in the geriatric care of your pet. And, as such, your vet can definitely paint the bigger medical picture for you and discuss your options while also incorporating your budget and even your schedule.
You might think the consideration of a pet owner’s schedule is a bit odd but think about this for a second. Consider a diabetic dog that requires medication to be given every few hours in order to survive. However, for whatever reason (and there are often many), this dog is only truly loyal to and okay with their owner, and this owner travels frequently for work. In this case, rehoming this dog would be cruel, as the pooch would be miserable. There is also no option of having someone else give the medication, as the dog will only take it from the owner.
These are agonizing circumstances, but common scenarios for veterinarians. That’s why a decision to euthanize has to be quite personal to the owner, but veterinarians will try to give you as many options as possible. If you think your dog might be nearing the end of their life but aren't sure, contact us. We can hopefully get you on a good geriatric plan but, if not, can help you decide whether it is time to let your precious pet go.