Consider End-of-Life Issues for Companion Animals Before It’s Time

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senior dogLast week while working at the Humane Society of Sedona, a woman approached the counter. She looked upset, and asked “How do you know when it is time to put an animal down”? I could tell this was difficult for her. We went to my office, and I listened while she talked about her 14 year old companion, who was experiencing medical issues.

I recall writing about this in a Paw Prints column, and thought it would be appropriate to repeat it. When the time comes, we’d all like for our animal companions to die peacefully in their sleep without pain or intervention. Few animals are so lucky.

A friend of mine recently lost her best friend. She is very aware of how painful it is to face the end of a beloved pet’s life. Thinking about the unthinkable before being faced with it can make a difficult time a little bit easier.

Euthanasia is the Greek word for “easy death”. The subject is anything but easy though, and pet guardians approach it in a variety of ways. Some pet parents are opposed to euthanasia because of religious or other beliefs. Others may request euthanasia as a matter of convenience.

The latter is a disheartening occurrence and an ethical dilemma. Veterinarians, as well as shelters, may refuse to perform euthanasia when it is not medically warranted. People whose pets have lengthy or terminal illnesses struggle to make the best decision.

Can their pet be treated? If so, to what degree? Will treatment significantly extend the companion animal’s life span or improve the quality of life left? Is it time to consider euthanasia?

These guardians are aware that if their pet will never get better it may be a kindness to spare him the suffering of a lingering illness. Veterinarians realize euthanization prevents suffering at the end of life. Euthanasia can be a blessing for some animals.

It is agonizing to care for dying animals for which this option is not being considered. Despite a vet’s best effort, these pets suffer to some degree. How and when should we decide to humanely end the life of an animal we love? To avoid this decision to animals who have given us so much is selfish. The decision has to be made with the animal in mind.

It is important not to wait too long and allow the animal to be in pain. It’s a fine and difficult line to walk, and the answer and timing will be unique to each family. It a pet is in obvious distress, having difficulty breathing, untreatable arthritic pain or intractable vomiting or diarrhea, the decision is easier. Other signs of suffering can be more subtle.

Generally speaking, if a pet engages in certain activities some quality of life remains. These include interest in food and surroundings, attention to grooming, interaction with familiar people and animals and ability to eliminate without becoming soiled.

Other factors need to be considered. The end of a pet’s life can involve enormous investments of time, money and nursing care. Depending on circumstances, these burdens can put tremendous strain on a family.

Euthanasia offers a human alternative to allowing a pet to deteriorate untreated. Before you are faced with a need to make a final decision, talk with your vet about any questions you may have. He will explain the actual procedure that is used and the options in our area for taking care of the body afterwards.

A question that a guardian should ask is whether or not to be present with your pet when it is euthanized. There is no right answer. If seeing your pet die would upset you terribly, it may be best that your last memories of your furry companion be of him alive. Our humans emotions are communicated to our pets and could upset them. If you feel your presence might offer him comfort, then you might prefer to be there.

Many of us are unprepared for the depth of our grief when out pets die. Yet grief is a normal response to the loss of a relationship in which so much love has been enjoyed. Your grief is for a unique and irreplaceable friend with whom you shared a deeply personal relationship on a daily basis. The most difficult grief is that which is borne alone. Speak with an understanding friend who will listen and understand.

The Last Battle

If it should be that I grow frail and weak, and pain should keep me from my sleep

Then will you do what must be done, for this, the last battle can’t be won.

You will be sad I understand, but don’t let grief stay your hand

For on this day, more than the rest, your love and friendship must stand

the test.

We have had so many happy years; you wouldn’t want me to suffer so. When the time comes, please let me go.

Take me to where my needs they’ll tend, only stay with me till the end. And hold me firm and speak to me until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree it is a kindness you do to me.

Although my tail its last has waved, from pain and suffering I have been saved.

Don’t grieve that it must be you who has to decide this thing to do. We’ve been so close, we two, these years, don’t let your heart hold any tears.


What about the future? Remember you are vulnerable at this time. Avoid making important decision, and don’t well-meaning supporters get a new pet for you. You will know when the time is right to open you heart to another furry friend.Humane Society of Sedona

Jacquie Randall

Volunteer Coordinator

Humane Society of Sedona