Knowing When to Say Goodbye

By Ronnie Casey

For those of us who believe our pets are part of our family, deciding when to euthanize a pet is the hardest decision a guardian will ever have make. It is, without a doubt, the ultimate anguish we must endure for our adored companions.

How, then, do we help our furry friends without letting our own longings and attachments prevent us from doing what is best? We do it by fully evaluating the pets’ quality of life and then determining whether our decision is based on our own wants and needs, or theirs.

Unless a pet is seriously injured and the decision must be an immediate one, take the time to ask yourself these following questions: Are most of my pet’s days good? Does my friend lose balance easily and fall frequently? Does he recognize me, and the rest of our family? Does he still have energy and enjoy his favorite activities? Can he still hear and see? Is he in chronic severe pain that I cannot control with medication? Has he stopped eating and do I have to force feed? Has my pet’s personality changed? Is he constantly vomiting or having diarrhea? Honest answers to these questions will help determine how good the pet’s quality of life is.

Remember, no one knows your pet better than you do. You have learned to communicate with him or her. Listen to what your pet is saying through actions, vocalization and body language, and then trust in what your heart is telling you. In addition, do not hesitate to seek guidance from your veterinarian. Then, lastly, ask yourself one more question. Would I want to be here today, to experience this day the way my cherished companion is?

While trying to decide whether to euthanize or not, you may face a wide gamut of emotions. In addition to your intense love for the animal, you may fear the unimaginable loss of him or her. Prior experiences with illness and death, whether it was a pet, family member or another may have a profound impact on your decision. Religious beliefs will also influence the outcome of when or if you will euthanize. In addition, it is not unusual, when dealing with the terminally ill, to deny what is occurring. It helps us avoid the pain and agony of difficult decisions.

To stay or not stay with a pet during its final moments is a very personal one. Everyone deals with death in different ways. For some pet guardians, the emotion of being present may be too overwhelming. For others, it is a great comfort to be with their companion animal when he or she is crossing the “Rainbow Bridge.” Neither choice is right or wrong. What is best for the guardian is the correct decision and most veterinarians will honor the choice.

Grief is also a normal response and very personal. Sometimes our family and friends do not realize how deep it may resonate within us. There are programs and organizations that provide assistance and resources to help with the loss of a pet. One is The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (

Rose Pet Memorial Center offers Pet Loss Support Groups the first week of each of month. Monday at Circle City Emergency Vet & Specialty Clinic; Tuesday at Humane Society of Indianapolis and Thursday at Indy Vet. All meetings start at 6 pm and last approximately 1 hour and everyone is welcome.

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