Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV, CPEV Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian

Certified Peaceful Euthanasia Veterinarian

Low Stress Handling (TM) Silver Certified

“How Do I Know When It’s Time?”

This is the question I hear from almost every pet owner I encounter in my house call end-of-life care practice. I understand – when it comes to my own pets, I struggle with this question as though I never spent 4 years in vet school and 21 years as a practicing veterinarian. It isn’t in our nature to make the decision to take a life. It feels wrong, especially if we live in a place where human beings are expected to pass away on their own with hospice care to ease them. (Incidentally, the second most common thing I hear is “we should have this {euthanasia} for people”). So if you have questions about euthanasia, the first thing you should know is you are not alone.

The second thing I hope you’ll take to heart is that there is no “right” time. Please don’t hold yourself to the impossible standard of choosing the perfect time to say goodbye. It doesn’t exist. Instead, reframe the question to “how much discomfort is enough?” Most pet owners I encounter feel as though they are selfishly taking something away from their pets. What they hardly ever allow themselves to acknowledge is that they are generously freeing their pet from suffering and protecting them from what is to come. Generally speaking, terminal and quality of life limiting (like arthritis) diseases don’t get prettier as time goes by. With proper hospice/palliative care, improvements can be seen, but these diseases always get worse. In cases of arthritis, the progression may be slow – I’ve had patients on palliative care for years before it gets to be too much. With some cancers, I barely have time to start treatment before the pet becomes too uncomfortable to continue. It doesn’t matter how long we keep them alive. It matters that they are as comfortable as possible for the rest of their lives.

A third consideration is what are your lines in the sand? Everyone is different in how they care for their pets. Do you want absolutely as much time as possible with them? Then you need hospice care and a strategy for handling an emergency. Would you prefer less time if it means you can ensure a peaceful passing at home with the people your pet loves? Then make plans for saying goodbye ahead of time. Truthfully, most families are somewhere in the middle, and that’s ok.

Please don’t count on your pet telling you when it’s time. Pets are far more brave than they should be and will sometimes suffer a great deal before letting you know. The good news is you don’t have to assess them on your own. Your veterinarian, a house call hospice/euthanasia service or a credentialed veterinary technician have the expertise to support you along the way. If you are uncomfortable with one recommendation, please seek a second opinion. Quality of life evaluations can also help you see changes in your pet’s condition. We offer virtual quality of life consultations to talk with you about your pet’s situation. We use our quality of life survey to start the conversation and guide you in making choices for your pet. Please remember that mental health professionals such as grief counselors can be invaluable in helping you move through this process.

No matter what you decide, the unexpected can happen. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself if things don’t go according to plan. Your pet wouldn’t want you to suffer either.

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