Do pets really tell you when it’s time to say goodbye?
I recently had a conversation with a friend who said that pets always tell you when it’s time to say goodbye. I had to be completely honest and tell her that I had yet to experience a dog telling me it was time.
It’s true. I have never had a dog or cat tell me when it was time. Not that I doubt that it happens. I’m sure it does. It’s just that I’ve never experienced it myself.
A friend of mine is going through this very same situation right now. Every time she starts to think it’s time to say goodbye, her dog rallies and makes a comeback. There is nothing like a dog rallying back from illness or death to make you doubt yourself and your decision-making process.
I have experienced this very same thing with each of my dogs. Every time I would be ready to say goodbye, they would rally back. The worst is when they are still there in spirit, but their body is failing them. I am always filled with doubt – Is NOW the right time? Is it too early? What if I’m missing something else that is wrong with them and I say goodbye too soon?
Part of me wonders… Am I just too close to the situation to see the signs? Do I refuse to see what they are telling me because I don’t want to see it? It’s definitely a possibility. And yet, when I look back I can honestly say that none of my dogs “told” me that it was time. I always felt like I had to make the decision for them, and each time it devastated me.
So, I want to hear from you. How did you know it was the right time to say goodbye to your pet? Did your pet tell you? And, if so, how did they tell you?
Note: This post has taken on a life of its own since I first posted it back in 2011. I am grateful for those of you have comforted others and helped them to know when was the right time. One reader shared this in the comments section. I have shared it with many a friend who told me later that it was helpful. I encourage you to read it if you are struggling with this question too.
Here is the link to that article: How to Know When It’s Time to Euthanize Your Pet
It appears the link to the article has been recycled, so I am sharing the words here. I would give full credit to who wrote it, but Yahoo took their name down as well. I hope it will help you as you make the difficult decision to say goodbye. Thank you to Coni for sharing it first.
Remember that pets live in the moment. One of the most wonderful things about animals is how they embrace the present. Every time I walk into my house, my faithful Vizsla throws a one-dog ticker tape parade. The fact that I have entered the house thousands of times before, or that I will leave again in a few hours, means nothing. All that matters to him is the joy that he feels right now.
When our pets are suffering, they don’t reflect on all the great days they have had before, or ponder what the future will bring. All they know is how they feel today. By considering this perspective, we can see the world more clearly through their eyes. And their eyes are what matter.
Ask yourself important questions. Sometimes, articulating or writing down your thoughts can make the right path more apparent. Some questions that help pet owners struggling with this decision include:
• Why do I think it might be time to euthanize?
• What are my fears and concerns about euthanizing?
• Whose interests, besides those of my pet, am I taking into account?
• What are the concerns of the people around me?
• Am I making this decision because it is best for my pet, or because it is best for me because I’m not ready to let go?
Measure their quality of life. This is no more than trying to determine how good or bad our pet’s life is at this moment. Trying to assess this can be difficult, but there are some ways you can try and evaluate it. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites in the next section.
Is Life a Joy or a Drag?
Our pets may not be able to talk to us and tell us how they are doing, but if we pay close attention, there are many clues that can help us answer that question.
The Rule of “Five Good Things”: Pick the top five things that your pet loves to do. Write them down. When he or she can no longer do three or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.
Good Days vs. Bad: When pets have “good days and bad days,” it can be difficult to see how their condition is progressing over time. Actually tracking the days when your pet is feeling good as well as the days when he or she is not feeling well can be helpful. A check mark for good days and an X for bad days on your calendar can help you determine when a loved one is having more bad days than good.
HHHHHMM: Doctor Alice Villalobos is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is another useful tool. The five H’s and two M’s are: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene (the ability to keep the pet clean from bodily waste), Mobility and More (as in, more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being poorest quality of life and 10 being best). If the majority of categories are ranked as 5 or above, continuing with supportive care is acceptable.
Pet Hospice Journal: Keeping a journal of your pet’s condition, behavior, appetite, etc., can be extremely valuable in evaluating quality of life over time.
A Tale of Two “Endings”
The reality of having older pets is that we must be vigilant in their care and aware that every day is a gift.
In the case of my long-ago patient, Stone, with whom I first walked this path, I am glad to say that he did not suffer unnecessarily with osteosarcoma. His owner made a good decision, and Stone crossed the rainbow bridge while in the loving arms of his people. He was remembered by them as a strong, loving protector of the children in his family, and I will always remember his owner for having the strength and wisdom I hope we’ll all have when the time comes to say that final goodbye.
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