It’s never easy to bid farewell to a beloved family pet. Here’s what to consider as you prepare to say goodbye.
For my birthday one year, my husband surprised me with an 8-week-old pug puppy. We fell in love with his ugly-cute face and his crazy antics, and named him Zeke. Zeke was with us through multiple milestones in our lives, including new jobs, college graduations, the births of our children, and a move to a new house. In short, Zeke was a part of our family. When he turned 12, his health started to fail, and we knew we wouldn’t have much time left with him. We had to determine what was best for Zeke, and then we had to figure out the best way to explain the coming loss to our kids. (See what our pediatric advice columnist Dr. Doug Lincoln recommends when talking to your kids about death: pdxparent.com/new-fun-february-2020.)
Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is one of the hardest things a family will ever do. And while a natural death is what many pet owners hope for, sometimes euthanasia is the most peaceful way for your pet to pass. Here’s what to watch for as you decide whether it’s time to euthanize your family pet.
Signs to Look For
If your pet shows symptoms of illness, including changes in thirst or appetite, behavior, or movement, consult with your veterinarian right away. Be on the lookout for difficulty breathing, eating, or drinking, in addition to changes in potty habits. If your pet is beginning to struggle to do some basic things in comfort, you should take note.
Meredith Ott, a Portland-area mom, says the loss of her family’s 13-year-old cat was difficult to process, but knowing what to look for helped. “When we took her to the vet toward the end, they were very helpful in giving us signs to look for — for when she was nearing the end of her life,” says Ott. “We were pretty sure she was beginning to have kidney failure, but weren’t willing to incur massive vet bills to operate. Suddenly one day, she had a seizure and could not really move after this point. It was immediately obvious it was time to say goodbye.”
Your veterinarian is your best resource as you navigate the end-of-life discussion and make a final decision. They understand that every situation is unique, and your pet’s best interest is always their priority. Age, breed, condition of your pet, and the financial reality of your pet’s care are all things that factor into the discussion.
When Zeke began to show signs of neurological failure, we took him into the vet to talk about what options we had. Was it time to say goodbye yet or did he have more time? How could we make him more comfortable in the meantime? We were expecting that Zeke would need to be euthanized right away, but our vet said that we probably had a solid month of time before the final goodbye. We left the vet office encouraged that we had a few more weeks with him and that we had that extra time to prepare our kids for what was coming. We snuggled with him a lot, we gave him extra food and treats, and we talked a lot to our kids about doing our best to enjoy those final days with him.
Just like our vet did, your vet is also willing to walk you through scenarios and steps and make sure you have the answers you need. They can also explain the actual euthanasia procedure so you will know what to expect when the time comes.
Almost exactly a month after that vet appointment where we discussed our options, we knew it was time to say goodbye to Zeke. He had taken a turn for the worse and it was very difficult to see him struggle. But it didn’t make the decision any easier. On his final day, we took him to get an ice cream cone at Burgerville, so we could have one final positive memory with him. There were many tears, but we all knew that he would be happier and healthier in doggy heaven.
Letting go of your beloved pet is very hard, but there are some special ways you can honor your pet after they are gone. Ott shares that her family bought some special stones and placed them on the top of the spot where their kitty was buried. They also bought a plant in her memory and keep a picture of her on their living room mantel. Others like to donate money in their pet’s name to a meaningful organization or scatter the animal’s ashes in one of their pet’s favorite places.
If you want to say goodbye to your pet in the comfort of your own home, these providers can help:
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia
Dignified Pet Euthanasia
And DoveLewis offers pet-loss grief support including free memorial art classes. Dovelewis.org/pet-owners/pet-loss-support