By Dr Edward Bassingthwaighte, Holistic Veterinarian
My old whippet is fading - day by day, week by week, month by month. Pearl is well over 15 years old now. She has dementia, and her tired old body is slowly becoming more rickety, weaker. The fires of her vital forces are burning low, and nearly out of fuel. She is gently fading.
I’m facing the decision that we are going to talk about in this article. The final decision. The inevitable, merciful choice that we so often need to make for our dear old friends. The merciful, beautiful, impossibly difficult decision that only we can make, in the end. (I have tears flooding into my eyes as I write these words.)
Before we get to how and when we make the decision to help our old friends transition out of their tired old bodies, I want to invite you to forgive yourself for any guilt you may still carry from previous times you’ve helped your pets die well. I find that about 40% of people are still beating themselves up about having made that final decision ‘too soon’, and about 40% of people are still beating themselves up for having made it ‘too late’.
One of the things about this inevitable decision is that you always made it at the best possible time you could, every time you did. So now, forgive yourself, if you need to. Because that will help you make the best possible decision the next time you have to. Your heart will be clear!
Decision points (or triggers)
It’s important that you make sure that you are emotionally strong enough to let your old friend go. Your dogs love you more than anything, so they will hang around for you no matter how much it hurts. Sometimes you might need a trusted friend of vet help you if you feel too emotionally close and entangled to be able to make a good decision.
There are a range of signs that the time is close, or already here. If and when Pearl shows these signs, I’ll gently help her out of her body.
- Your old friend stops eating, goes right off their food,
- Your old friend can no longer get up on their feet from lying down,
- Your old friend has uncontrollable pain (even with all available pain relief),
- Your old friend is having more bad days than good days on average over a week or two,
- Your old friend looks at you, and you just know they are ready,
- You feel like the time is right,
- Your old friend becomes incontinent,
- Your old friend has any symptoms which are uncontrollable and result in a poor Quality of Life,
- Your old friend has difficulty breathing
- Your old friend is continually uncomfortable, and can’t settle to sleep,
- Your old friend becomes aggressive,
- Your old friend is crying out or barking all of the time,
- Or your old friend no longer wants any kind of touch or connection with you - or if they start hiding away in dark corners, under beds, etc.
Once you’ve decided it’s time, then don’t linger with that decision. Get straight on the phone, call your vet, and make time to either take your old friend into your vet hospital (or to have a vet come to your home). You’ll need to decide if you want to bury your old friend at your home or have them cremated. You’ll need boxes of tissues.
Invite all members of the family to be involved with the decision-making process, and to be present for the euthanasia appointment if possible - but don't force kids if they can’t face it. If you can have the other animals in your family see their friend’s body after they have gone, that can really help their grieving process. It’s ok for other pets to be present too.
Caring for yourself through the end-of-life journey, healthy grieving
You are losing a family member. This is huge (and even huger if you don't have human children). It’s a profound bereavement, and you will experience storms and rivers of grief. Grief is a very direct measure of love. The more you love your pets, the deeper and wider the grief shall be.
This is a time to reach out for support from families, friends, and professionals if needed. If you have a history of trauma, anxiety, or any kind of mental health issues, you’ll need to take extra special care to care for yourself and have all the resources you need in place. That might look like seeing your doctor, making sure you have friends visiting, working with a therapist, self-nurturing with massage, spa days etc.
You need to make sure you are getting sleep, eating well, and having some quiet downtime - especially if you get a sudden, shock diagnosis with a younger pet (it’s rarer, but sometimes we need to help young animals to the other side).
Let the grief flow. Don’t bottle it in. It’s human. We all need to cry when we lose a family member who we love deeply. And you’ll require extra special self-care and nurturing as you move through your grieving process.
Do you get another dog sooner or later (or never again)? That’s an individual choice, but personally, I always find another dog sooner. I just can’t live without the incredible love they bring into my life!
About the Author - Dr Edward Bassingthwaighte.
Dr Edward Bassingthwaighte is a holistic veterinarian, and a world-leading expert in silent pain in pets. Dr Edward is passionate about fresh raw whole foods for dogs. He is the founder of the Whole Energy Body Balance method- a profoundly healing bodywork modality for pet parents and pet wellness professionals to relieve silent pain, anxiety and trauma in pets. Join Dr Edward's free masterclass on silent pain in pets here.
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