My husband and I recently had to make one of the most difficult decisions of our lives – deciding when the time was right to end our dog’s suffering. I hate every verb and phrase for what to call this. All of the terms are terrible – euthanasia is so clinical and putting down is just crass. My husband finally chose to tell the vet tech we’re here for “the procedure” for lack of better terminology. Nothing sounds or feels right, so I’m going with ending his suffering.
In less than a year, we have lost two beloved, and I mean beloved, pets to metastatic cancer. Last March, our 14 year old, Kayla, died of metastatic stomach cancer after a year and now our Casey has died from metastatic melanoma after only 5 months. It SUCKS is truly the phrase that best describes how I’m feeling.Over the 21 years that we’ve been married, we’ve had 5 pups and have had to make this decision 2 1/2 times. Let me explain the 1/2. The first was for Bandit, who I brought to the marriage. He, too, had an oral melanoma like Casey and we waited way too long before finally facing reality and ending his suffering. We swore we would never do that again and would always put the animal’s welfare before our fears and our desire to keep them with us as long as possible.
Kayla, who was having symptoms from her cancer, was the 1/2. While we were watching for that sign, she chose when to go and I firmly believe with all my heart and common sense that that’s exactly what happened. We were at the vets only for a check-up and had not gotten to the final decision stage. But, she put her head on my husband’s foot, stood up to go in the back room, collapsed, and that was it.
A very similar situation transpired with Casey. When we knew the time had come, which I’ll discuss below, Carl carried him to the car. On the way to the emergency vets, he lied down in the back seat, his breathing was totally normal, and he was just looking around. Carl even asked if we should go back home. Did we jump the gun? But, we continued and Carl carried him into the vets. When the tech went to pick him up, he went limp in her arms and that was it. Carl has chosen to believe that his angel came to him during his final moments and he found peace.
Casey’s cancer had metastasized to his lungs very quickly. While the treatment for the melanoma worked well, it just didn’t prevent it from metastasizing. He got a clean bill of health at his check up just 6 weeks ago, but a few days before a recheck, I noticed he was getting weak in his hind legs and having breathing difficulty. I got him in with his oncologist immediately and the results were what I feared, but still hadn’t expected to hear. It was just such a short time ago that I said hearing “everything looked great” was the best Christmas present I could receive and now…
While it is such a comfort – and yes, that is the appropriate word – that we have the option to end our pet’s suffering, that doesn’t make knowing if and when to do it any easier. It is simply one of the most heart and gut-wrenching decisions anyone has to make. When they are terminally ill, the best you hope for is that they just go to sleep and fail to wake up. But, only a lucky few experience this. The rest of us have to constantly watch our adorable pets, hoping for some sign that the time has come and they are tired and ready. But, when that doesn’t happen, the alternative is to make that decision ourselves. Sigh…
So, based on my experience, here are some tips I can share with you for dealing with a terminally ill pet. I truly hope they help ease your burden and if you are reading this because you are dealing with a dying pet now, you have my most heartfelt sympathy…
- To begin with, try and find a compassionate vet that you have a good rapport with for your family vet. When the time came, ours even offered to come to our house when we needed her. She was just amazing and such a comfort. Thank you Michelle. Casey’s oncologist, Lindsay, was equally a rock to lean on and always there for us, so we were most fortunate in this respect.
- These days, in our area anyway, more vets are choosing to be mobile vets and will come to your house to perform euthanasia, if your regular vet won’t make a house call. We chose this option with Bandit and all I can say is the vet was horrible; unfeeling to say the least. If you go this route, make sure you check out the vet personally and get a feel for their level of care and compassion. Trust your gut on this one.
- Be attuned to your pets’ behaviors. You need to be able to do this even when they are nice and healthy, so you can pick up cues when they are not. When they are terminal, pay close attention to so you can determine when they need more palliative care, such as pain management and when life is becoming just too difficult for them and act accordingly.
- Remind yourself this is about your pet’s well-being and not about you. DO NOT prolong your pet’s suffering for your selfish reasons no matter how well-intentioned you might be. From the time I first noticed Casey was having an issue to when he passed was less than a week. While he had periods of difficulty breathing, he had more time seemingly comfortable. He even wanted to go for a walk with his dad and sister several days before he passed. But, just 2 short days later, he could not even lie down, because it obviously made breathing too difficult. We knew the time had come and could not let him go on, even though I still wanted to kiss his nose and rub his belly.
- Make their last days as comfortable as possible. Spend as much time as you can with them and do as many of their favorite things as possible. I offered Casey all of his favorite foods even when his appetite was almost non-existent. If he took a few bites, I was so happy. I sat with him by his bed during the day and I even slept on the floor next to him his last night (I didn’t know it would be, though). If he wanted up on the couch, we either gave him a little assist or Carl picked him up. He even tried to get in bed with us one night and Carl put him on. He curled up between our pillows like he always used to. We seriously both cried. Put their favorite toy next to them in bed. You get the idea.
- Trust me on this one. You want to do all of this so you have no regrets or guilt. I don’t want you to ever go, “Why didn’t I just give him more belly rubs.” I want you to look back on this time and you will oh, so often, and remember only the love you shared and know in your heart that you did everything you could to make your pet’s passing easier for them. Take comfort in knowing they were with you feeling loved and safe until the end and this is what you always need to remember.
I wish I didn’t have the experience to be able to write this, but if you open your home to pets, it comes with the territory. While I always say I can’t go through the loss again and will never have another dog, I always have not one, but 2, because they are the soul of my home and our house just feels empty without them. And, while their loss is seemingly unbearable, the years of pleasure they have filled my life with somehow makes it bearable…