How Can Anyone Really Know It Is Time? by Dr. Julie Reck

As a veterinarion running a mobile vet practice dedicated to providing a compassionate home euthanasia service, I face this question at least 5 times a day and sometimes I internally ask myself this throughout the day.  I recently published a book called “Facing Farewell” to help people find the answer to this question.  In the book, pet owners learn how animals perceive life and death, how to measure quality of life, and the process of the euthanasia procedure.  This is all very important information for anyone faced with making end of life decisions for their pet, but in this blog I would like to try to tackle this question on a more personal level.

The following is a statement I hear a lot from pet owners, “I am waiting for my pet to tell me it’s time.”  Exactly how do we expect our pets to communicate that they are ready to go?  For many of us, the development of a lack luster attitude would be a clear indication that our pet no longer finds enjoyment in life.  Maybe he or she no longer wishes to eat, or they no longer come to greet you at the door when you arrive home.  They may stop wagging their tail or they may lose interest in their toys.  I have seen situations where a pet will demonstrate these changes in behavior, but it is important for pet parents to realize that this is NOT the normal outcome.  I know many will hesitate to believe me on this, but our pets will often not develop a continuous lack luster attitude toward life that would provide most of us with the confidence to go forward with our decision.  Surprised or perplexed?  I completely understand, but let me explain:

When we form a human animal bond with our pets, their entire perspective on life shifts.  The care, love, and attention we provide our pet causes them to view us as their “provider” or “God”.  The sun rises and sets on us; they are always happy to see us and often want to be with us as much as possible.  I see many pets in the end stages of cancer or suffering serious ailments of old age and, despite their discomfort and handicaps, they wtill “light up” when they see their owner.  They will still wag their tail, they will still be excited when their owner comes home, and they may still use their very last bit of strength to pick up a ball to make their owner happy.  Often I cannot medically explain their newfound  strength and happiness when they are so critically ill.  These moments of happiness and bursts of energy can make us doubt our end of life decisions for our pets.  I have seen this many times and the pets I have helped have provided me with valuable wisdom and insight.

For many pets to lose all interest in life, the disease process they are experiencing will have to strip them of everything they ever were.  This will often only happen at the very bitter end of their fight.  As we face the responsibility of this decision, our goal is to protect them from the discomfort and humiliation of this bitter end.  It is truly a gift to provide a peaceful and graceful exit from this world.  I have learned to find comfort if a pet is still experiencing some joy on their last day.  The pet may be able to enjoy wonderful food, have a fun car ride, or take a swim in the lake.

If you find yourself waiting for your pet to “tell you it is time”, then take a moment to reflect on the changes in your pet that you are waiting to witness.  Facing this decision is one of life’s most difficult choices, but your pet will appreciate you strength, empathy and compassion.     Dr. Julie Reck

For more assistance on end of life decision making for pets or to read more information on Dr. Reck’s helpful and informative book, “Facing Farewell” please go to http://www.facingfarewell.com

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One response to “How Can Anyone Really Know It Is Time? by Dr. Julie Reck

  1. Dr. Reck,

    Thank you for this enlightening perspective on judging the timing of a pet’s euthanasia. I am an animal chaplain who works with people to help them prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss, and I plan to share some of the points you’ve made here with future clients. In my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” I included a chapter about how oftentimes pets (and even people) will suddenly rally shortly before they die. People will often misconstrue this spontaneous recovery as a sign that the pet is going to regain full health. They then feel toyed with by the Universe when the pet dies shortly thereafter or takes a dramatic enough turn for the worse that they can feel confident about putting them to sleep. I try to explain to them that this phenomenon is a gift, a chance for them all to share one last good memory before saying goodbye. They should cherish this brief respite, but be ready to let go once that situation ends. I saw this with my own father as well as with several of my pets.
    Again, I thank you for your opinions and expertise.

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