Making the Decision to Say Goodbye

Posted on April 29, 2024

by Dr. Terri Argotsinger

Posted April 29, 2024
Sad Dog

Making the Decision to Say Goodbye

 

Pets are family and losing any family member (when two-footed or four) can be very difficult.  And it can become even more difficult when we may have to make that decision for our beloved pet.  It can feel immoral, murderous, gut-wrenching, or that you are letting your pet down.  In reality, for many pets, euthanasia can be the last and greatest gift we can give them.  We can remove their suffering and give them peace. 

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As your pet ages or their medical condition deteriorates, you may hear us or others discussing their “quality of life.”  This is a subjective term and is highly dependent on your pet’s individual situation.  They may be experiencing pain, anxiety, or difficulties performing everyday functions.  And although some pets may have improved quality of life with pain medication, fluid therapy, or other treatments, other pets may have conditions that do not have any “good” options to alleviate discomfort.  Pets live in the present.  They don’t remember the great days they’ve had or wonder what the future holds.  All that matters to them is how they’re feeling at that moment.  And if those moments are not good moments, then we need to consider their quality of life.

We all hope that we and our pets will pass away peacefully in their sleep.  Sadly, this “peaceful death” is actually pretty rare and many owners regret watching their pet suffer at the end.  And by waiting too long, your pet may start suddenly suffering immensely, requiring a stress-filled emergency visit to a veterinarian or watching your pet struggle or panic at the end.  They may start crying out, having seizures, or start struggling to breathe.  This can be very traumatic to watch and very stressful for your pet.  We would rather that their last moments be resting in your arms. 

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There’s no simple way to make the decision to euthanize your pet.  Every pet, every situation, and every illness is different.   It can also be an indication when someone who doesn’t see your pet often makes a comment that your pet is looking worse.  Some changes are more difficult to evaluate when you see your pet every day. 

If you find yourself wondering if it is time to say good-bye, start by taking some time to evaluate your feelings.  Use a journal or a confidant to discuss:

Why am I considering that it might be time to euthanize?

What are my fears/concerns about euthanasia?

 Am I putting my interests above my pet’s interests?

Are others around me influencing my decision or am I making one based on what others are telling me?

Am I putting this off just because I’m not ready?

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After you’ve had a chance to review your feelings about this decision, it can still sometimes be difficult to determine if it’s the appropriate time to make that decision.  Here are a few ways that can help you look at things from a more objective perspective:

  • “Five Good Things.” — Make a list of the top five things your pet loves or loved to do.  This could include eating, playing with a tennis ball, greeting you at the door, watching the birds, cuddling on the couch, or other daily activities.  If your pet can no longer do these things, this is an indication it’s time.
  • Good Days vs Bad Days. – Find a calendar or planner and start making some type of indication if your pet had a good day or bad day as you go along. This could be check marks, smiley/sad faces, etc.  When the bad days start outweighing the good days, it’s an indication that your pet’s quality of life is no longer good and it could be time to make decisions. 
  • HHHHHMM Scale – This stands for hurt, hunger, hydration, happiness, hygiene, mobility, and more (good days) and provides a more objective scale for measuring how you’re doing.
    • Score from 1 (poor) to 10 (best)
    • If your pet’s total score is below 35 or if any individual category is below 5, this is an indicator that their quality of life is waning.

HURT.  Does your pet appear to be in pain? Can the pain be controlled? Is your pet struggling to breathe?

 

HUNGER.  Is your pet eating?  Are they eating enough to maintain their body weight?

 

HYDRATION.  Is your pet drinking water?  Are they dehydrated? 

 

HYGIENE.  Are you able to keep your pet clean or are they still grooming themselves (cats)?  Do they get sores when laying down or from getting wet?  Are they constantly having accidents that require cleaning up?

 

HAPPINESS.  Does your pet express joy/interest, especially in the things they previously loved?  Is your pet responsive to toys, family, etc?  Are they isolating themselves?  Do they act anxious, scared, or confused?

 

MOBILITY.  Can your pet get around without assistance or is there an acceptable way for you to help them get around?  Do they have interest in going for walks?  Are there any seizures or collapsing episodes?

 

MORE GOOD DAYS.  Is your pet still having good days?  Are the good times becoming less common?  Do the bad days outnumber the good days?

 

TOTAL:

 

 

  • Daily Journal. Start a daily log of how your pet is doing.  Track 6 different things each day.  This can include items such as your pet’s mobility, how well they’re eating, how well they’re drinking, interactions with family/toys, ability to urinate/defecate normally, love of favorite things, etc.  Give a score of 2 (good!), 1 (poor), or 0 (none) for each category.  If your pet is scoring between 9-12, everything is probably still going okay.  If they’re scoring 6-8, it’s time to start evaluating your pet more closely or discussing your concerns with your veterinarian.  If the score is below 5, your pet’s quality of life is pretty poor and euthanasia may be the best option. 

Please remember that you are not alone as you navigate this difficult decision, and that we are always here to help provide information, resources, and an objective opinion, if needed.  We can also help devise a hospice plan and determine whether palliative care is possible to help keep your pet comfortable until it is time. 

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By Dr. Terri Argotsinger

Dr. Terri graduated from Iowa State University's college of veterinary medicine in 2008 and has been living/practicing in the Des Moines area for the last 13 years. She's been a vet at Ankeny Animal & Avian Clinic since 2017. She has three orange cats at home that love to keep her busy!
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