End of Life Decision Making: When is it time to say good bye to your pet?

Rama by . When is the right time to let go and choose to end the life of a dear companion? I believe that getting the timing right requires recognizing when having their life “end later” is no longer compatible with having their life “end well”. Then it is time to ensure that their life ends well.

Living is about so much more than just being alive. Your pet’s quality of life is about how they feel about their life. It is about the sum total of their physical, emotional, and social experiences, and about how these experiences impact their ability to engage in, and enjoy, living. It is about what matters to them. And although our pets may not have words to express how they feel about the quality of their life, or the value in a day, if we pay attention they can still tell us.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

What is your pet’s physical experience these days?

  • Are they able to have a restful sleep? Or are they uncomfortable, anxious, or restless?
  • Are they able to breathe comfortably? Or are they in distress?
  • Are they eating and drinking well? Or are they losing weight or becoming dehydrated?
  • Are they able to move and thus engage in their regular activities of daily living? Can they get to their food and water bowls, go outside or use a litterbox to eliminate. Or do they need to rely solely on you? If so, are you able to reliably meet their needs in a manner that keeps them feeling comfortable and content?
  • Are you able to ensure their safety?

Are your pet’s emotional needs being met?

(This can depend to some extent on their individual personality.)

  • Is your pet showing signs of anxiety or distress?
  • Are they coping well with the burdens of ill health?
  • Are they coping well with the care measures you are administering, or do they wish you would just leave them be?
  • Do they still have a reasonable level of control over their environment?
  • Are they able to enjoy their usual routine?
  • Do they have a good level of mental stimulation and engagement? Or are they showing signs of turning away from life and the things they previously enjoyed?

Are their social interactions as they should be, as they need to be to ensure a life of quality?

Avoiding social isolation is paramount, but so too is minimizing unwanted or stressful interactions.

  • What is your pet telling you about the opportunities for social interaction that they still enjoy? About those they no longer want?
  • Do they still enjoy the same level of interaction with the family? With other family pets? Or are they letting go of those attachments?

Paying attention to all the things our pets are telling us helps us get a better sense of what their wishes might be. They will tell us if they are looking for more, or hoping for less, of the life they have now.