Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things someone loving a pet will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine is fortunate to be able to legally offer the option of gently ending suffering when there seems to be no hope for recovery. It is a difficult decision to make at best, and it can be nearly impossible for some pet owners. There are so many factors that play into it. The term that is used the most in this context is “quality of life.” But what does that really mean? Are there hard and fast rules as to what constitutes good quality of life? Of course not. Quality of life means something different for every person, and for every animal.

There are some fairly obvious markers. Pain is one of them. No pet owner wants to see a beloved pet suffer. Animals, especially cats, are masters at masking pain, so this can be difficult to detect. Another marker is appetite. For most pet owners, the first indication that something is wrong is usually when a pet stops eating. A third important marker is dignity. Is the pet still able to relieve herself on her own, or does she need assistance with urination and defecation?

But even these three markers are not always helpful when trying to make a decision. Pain can be managed with medication. Some pets stop eating or eat very little but are still happy and are enjoying life. And who is to say that the dog that needs assistance with being carried outside to urinate or the cat who needs help to get into the litter box and needs to be cleaned off afterwards does not appreciate this level of care from his loving human and is otherwise happy and content?  Each pet is different, and each relationship between human and animal is unique.  There is no one right answer.

It is often said that making the decision to euthanize a pet is the final gift of love we can give our animals. I wholeheartedly believe that, but it still does not make the decision process any easier. Love and denial can be intricately linked, and it can sometimes be difficult to separate one from the other.

It is often said that we will just “know” when the time is right.  And I believe that when we do connect with the essence of our animals and manage to set aside worry and fear for even just a few moments at a time, we will know.  It takes courage to set aside our fears, and to tune in to the animal and really “hear”  them.  Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads. It becomes a decision of love, not something to be reasoned out on an analytical and intellectual level.

17 Comments on Euthanasia: How to Know When It’s Time

  1. My cat of 15 years sent me a sign the day after euthanising him:

    “I’m alright Cindy and you did the right thing. You didn’t make me suffer a horrible disease and I appreciate it. I love you and I had the most pampered existence that a cat could ever dream about. Your pain that you are feeling now is what you did to not make me suffer. My soul is gone now but I wanted to touch your life one more time before I left. Your Yeti Boy…”

    I pick up his ashes today.

  2. Ingrid, when I read your book Buckley’s Story I was already preparing myself for the eventual decision that I knew I would have to face because my beloved tortie Manchita had vaccine-associated fibrosarcoma that had recurred in an aggressive fashion after what was at tha time successful surgery. When I saw Amber and Buckley’s pictures, their expressions and bearing were so similar to Manchi that it was almost spooky. Torties are truly one-of-a-kind. I had to make the decision two weeks ago to euthanize my pet soulmate after the cancer appears to have metastasized to her lungs and her breathing became extremely labored. After I wanted to do one more x-ray (and we had tried strong painkillers which did nothing for her), she looked at me the morning we took her to her wonderful vet, and pleaded for me to let her go. Once I said it was OK, she laid down and rested until it was time for the vet’s office to open. I sat in a rocking chair and cradled her in my arms while the vet gave her the injection. It was peaceful and the final onset of her illness came very fast so she truly enjoyed her life until a couple of days before her passing. I received her ashes yesterday, and it has opened up a torrent of pent-up pain. But I feel so blessed to have had my cranky, only-had-eyes-for-me, and loving tortie for almost 11 years. Letting her go was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I am at peace that did everything medically possible and that I kept my promise to her to let her go once she was in pain or did not want to eat any more (she didn’t lose an ounce with her cancer, so not eating was one of the ways she told me in no uncertain terms that she was ready to go). Thank you for your book, your words of wisdom and encouragement. Having had a near-death experience almost 12 years ago after brain surgery, I know there is a heaven and I firmly believe that Manchi is waiting there for me at the rainbow bridge, to live with me forever after.

    • I’m so sorry about Manchi, Mariana. It’s such a devastating experience to lose these wonderful cats. I’m glad you’re at peace with your decision, and I’m glad she had a good life until just a few days before her passing, but I know that doesn’t make it hurt any less that she’s gone. I have no doubt that you’ll see her again. My heart goes out to you. Be gentle with yourself during this difficult time.

  3. Layla, thanks for sharing your experience of your shamanic journeys with Coco and Merlin. I sure am glad Coco and Merlin aren’t ready to leave yet. I have no doubt that they will tell you gently when the time comes what their wishes are.

    Birdy, it sounds like you were very much in tune with Coconut. I’m glad she was in your arms at the end.

    Thanks, Tammy. It is all about the heart connection.

  4. Great post, Ingrid. Making the decision to euthanize a pet is one of the most difficult I’ve had to make. I really liked your statement that it is a decision of love. That is a really profound thought! thank you!

  5. @Ingrid – Very much so. I know that happened with my beloved Coconut. She stayed until I couldn’t bear to see her suffer any more.

    When I let her know that, she was gone w/in 15 minutes, in my arms, at home.

  6. This is so timely. Thanks Ingrid. I’ve journeyed with both Coco and Merlin recently to visit the rainbow bridge for a sneak peek. Anyone can learn to do this shamanic practice after learning how to retrieve one’s power animal. It really reduced Coco’s fear a lot to know that there is a wonderful place waiting for her. She communicated clearly that she is not ready to go just yet and will hopefully tell me if she wants to go naturally or with assistance. I’m meditating more with them to help fine tune this intuitive exchange.
    Merlin has experienced other realms many times, visiting me in dreams, astrally traveling while I was in another country etc. He thinks nothing of the transition between this life and the next, but I suspect will hang on until I can handle his passing like Buckley did.

  7. Birdy, I agree that animals make their own decisions about when it’s time to transition, and that they often help their humans by taking the decision out of human hands. I also think that sometimes, if a human has accepted that it’s time, and they tell the animal that it’s okay to go, animals do leave on their own. However, it requires really “meaning it” – animals pick up on our energy more than on the words we say. I know for me, with Buckley, even though I told her several times during the last couple of weeks she was with me that it was okay to go, I wasn’t really ready, and she knew it. I do believe that these animals love us that much – they sometimes hang in there much longer than they’d like because they know we’re not ready to let go.

  8. Thank you for this. It’s so healing/comforting/etc. to see someone finally willing to admit that it’s different for each animal, human, & situation.

    So much of the time I see huge amounts of oversimplification, judgment, & deciding-for-others, both human & animal, around this topic.

    In my experience, animals are also perfectly willing & able to take care of the matter themselves. On a couple of different occasions, I’ve known pets that, when told that their humans felt it was time, gave those humans the mercy of slipping away by themselves.

    Again, it’s not always, but another facet in the equation.

  9. Love and denial were so cleverly entwined when Hattie was sick, all I could truly understand was the look in her eyes. It’s a great topic to bring up, Ingrid, and you always do a wonderful job of covering these difficult issues with love and compassion.

  10. Ingrid, explaining how those “markers” may not work for every pet is very important to explain. It’s just putting aside your own emotions to clearly hear theirs that’s the hard part! My Kublai intentionally and patiently taught me lessons about this in the year or so he was ill, and I and every cat I’ve lived with since has been grateful for my schooling.

  11. Ingrid that was a terrific post and that last paragraph is so very true. I have put many an animal to sleep and I cannot remember a time when the animal didn’t let me know in some way. My last one Squeeky was fairly sick for a couple of years and I thought about putting her down many times and she would wake up and start eating and acting all normal. But then one day, I could tell by the look in her eyes, that she was tired and it was time. So I feel like that saying, ‘that we will know when it is time’ is very true.

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