by Kari Trotsky DVM
Peaceful Endings for Pets

If you’ve ever faced the difficult decision of when to euthanize your pet, you’ve probably heard well-meaning people say, “You will just know,” or, “Your pet will tell you.” But, I meet people every day who agonize over the decision because they don’t know when it’s time. They never received the message from the knowing eyes of their pet. They don’t know if their pet’s expression means yes or no. They just can’t tell.

Not knowing makes accepting the decision even worse. People may feel they missed a cue and waited too long. Or, maybe they misinterpreted it and are making the decision prematurely. People can suffer and feel guilty about the whole process. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if you don’t know when it’s time.

Sick Old Dog

I do know what people mean when they say you’ll know when it’s time. Or, that your pet will tell you. I know it because I’m a veterinarian and can recognize, medically, when things have gotten much worse for the pet and it’s time to say goodbye. I can recognize when animals are in pain (subtle hints can be hard to read). And, I just happen to be able to read animals extremely well and I often know what they want or are feeling.

But, not everybody can do this. You will find pet owners of all spectrums from never owned a pet before this one, to worked with pets their whole life. And, different people are just more intuitive than others, whether it’s animals or people. Some can read obvious signs of pain, but need help when an animal is trying to hide their pain. And, some are just too wrapped up in their own emotions of grief that it’s impossible to be subjective.

With all of these factors coming into play, you can see where it’s easy to get wires crossed and feel like you aren’t being a good pet parent if you can’t tell when the time is right. When others are asked by pet parents about how they will know, some people, for lack of any other good answer, will tell you that you will just know. They don’t mean to be vague. Maybe they, themselves, have been able to tell with their own pets and extrapolate that experience to others. Or, they just don’t know what to say when faced with a grieving owner. I’ve even heard veterinarians say it to clients.

I think that by simply recognizing how all these factors come into play, you can feel better about yourself when feeling confused about when to make the decision to euthanize. The best answer is to have a hospice consultation done by an experienced at-home euthanasia and hospice veterinarian. I’ve had situations where I’ve gone to a home to give my opinion, and after hearing it, people call me a day or two later for euthanasia. They heard the message, took time to say goodbye to their pet, and although they feel sad about losing them, at least they don’t harbor the guilt of missing what their pet is telling them. That, alone, is relief in itself.

Please share this post if you know somebody who might be facing this soon or anyone second guessing themselves after the fact.

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