Finding The Right Veterinarian

When Your Pet Is In Poor Health: Is It Time To Say Goodbye?

If your beloved pet is dealing with old age or an illness, you're in quite a predicament emotionally. You'll have to play the role of medical observer and care attendant as you deal with your breaking heart. The following questions and answers should help you through this tender process.

How Old Is Your Pet?

Although age may be an obvious factor in determining if your pet is nearing the end, it's not always completely cut and dry. For example, you may think your hamster is young at a full four years old, when in fact, most don't live to see their third birthday. Your dog's average life expectancy (in the absence of disease and other issues) might be nine years if he's a Great Dane but extend all the way to 17 or greater if he's a feisty little Chihuahua. Cats, too, see great discrepancy, and their lifespans are directly related to whether they're the outdoorsy type or not.

Ultimately, age should act as a general guide when you think your pet may be nearing the end.

Has His Appetite Declined?

When animals feel gravely ill, they're far less likely to consume any food. If your pet has stopped eating or really cut down on food, this is likely a strong indicator that you're facing a serious problem. Contact your vet and brief them on the situation; depending on how much you're willing to put your pet through, it may be best to take a "wait and see" approach or to make an attempt at convincing your pet to eat through various measures.

Either way, make him as comfortable as possible.

Is There No Energy Left In Your Pet?

An animal that isn't getting around much could be facing end-of-life issues. When your pet isn't very responsive to your enticements for walking or interacting, he may simply be running out of steam. Watch for signs of incontinence or bed sores, and surround him with his favorite blankets or toys. So long as he's not in a state of agitation, it's good to comfort him with your voice and gentle stroking.

There's a big difference between no energy and lethargy; if your pet is limp with lack of energy, contact your vet, or bring him to an emergency pet clinic right away.

What Does Your Intuition Tell You?

Pet parents have an intuitive sense, just as parents with human children do, and it's important that you work through your emotional upheaval over the possible loss of your pet to make an informed, clinical decision. Hanging on may be prolonging agony for both of you, no matter how difficult it is to say goodbye. Trust your instincts, but if you feel too emotional, talk with your vet or a close family member who is more prepared to face the tough decisions that lie ahead.

Making the determination to end your pet's life is very difficult, so make sure you have a good support system in place with family, friends, vet staff and a group, if needed. Talking with people who have been through what you're facing will strengthen and heal you much faster than doing this alone would.

Is A Last Ditch Effort Viable?

It can be hard to hold out for a miracle, but sometimes it's impossible not to. Discuss your pet's situation in depth to find out what all your options are, including other, more extreme (and likely expensive) measures in advance, if that's an avenue you think you might take to save your pet. Educating yourself about such matters during the course of a life and death emergency with your pet is extremely stressful; you'd rather have these decisions made in a advance, so they are informed and rational.

Emergency vet clinics, where you might take your pet in a crisis on weekends or after hours, are highly skilled at life-saving and stabilizing procedures, but this route involves many variables, such as cost and care for your ailing pet. While they can sometimes perform "miracles," that may or may not be a viable long-term solution for your particular situation.

What Do You Do When It's Really Over?

Although it's traumatic to say goodbye to your pet, watching him as he goes might make it even worse for you. You could opt for palliative care, where the animal is tended to in his final days by you, with the guided advice of a vet, or you could consider euthanasia. While the difference to your pet may be a few days or weeks more of life, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons of palliative vs. euthanasia for yourself, personally, too.

If your pet passes away at your home, he should either be buried right away or brought to the vet quickly, where you could have him cremated for keeping. You might also consider reserving a place for him at a nearby pet cemetery in advance, but no matter what you decide, it's not safe to keep him at your residence after he has passed.

Be sure to take good care of yourself during this heart-wrenching time, despite what you're going through. No matter what happens, you know your pet would want you to be okay, in the same way you're trying to look out for him.