Saying goodbye to our animal friends – how to decide when it is time to help them die

Our animal companion become so much a part of our lives but their lives are shorter than ours and at one point comes the time we need to say goodbye and make the decision to let them go. It seems to be rare to have our dog and cat friends pass on their own easily so many times the decision must be made by us. As difficult as it can be to make the decision to let our best friend go, it is an amazing gift of kindness we can make to decide to let them go peacefully when they reach a point of suffering.

How do we decide when it is time?

There is no right answer to that question and I think we all need to look into our own hearts and decide when that is right. I often find that when people are very close to their animals they know when that time is but there is also often a period of questioning that comes before then. Is it time, is it not time? Are they happy at all anymore? Will they get better? I also find that animals often go through ups and downs when they are getting close to dying. Two good days, two bad ones, going down hill and then having a day where they connect again with us.

That other thing I think we need to consider is that our animals sometimes need time to make their own peace with leaving us. They may realize that their bodies are wearing out but they love us so much that they aren’t sure if they can leave or even if we will be ok with their passing.

I often remind people, who have animals approaching death, to do their own work to come to terms with their animal passing. And it is important when you reach that place, to make sure that you tell your animal friend that it is ok to die, that they are loved but that their human (you) will be ok when they leave. This doesn’t mean that we will not be sad or it will not be hard. Believe me it sometimes feels like a giant hole has been torn in the universe, they leave a large space. But if you truly love someone and they are suffering and there is not a hope that they will get better, I find we want them to be able to pass on and not have to suffer anymore.

Because we do not have nursing homes for our animal friends we become the main caregivers. Depending on your animal’s condition, how available we are can make a large difference. If you work from home you may be able to do more hospice care than someone who is gone eight hours a day. It isn’t far to keep an animal here who cannot move and will be sitting in urine for an eight-hour day. However if they are not in pain and you can be home with them during the day and make sure they can be turned and any accidents get cleaned up immediately there is nothing wrong with taking care of a severely disabled animal. It is completely acceptable to decide to let an animal pass on because we can not properly care for them or give them what they need.

We also need to think about our own care and sanity. I choose to let my own dog Melbrey go when he was still having pretty good days because he would be up all night and anxious and I couldn’t sleep, nor could he. Without sleep I could not care for him. We tried drugs, herbs and putting him in a different room. All caused him to be more anxious and the drugs made him pee all over himself. I made the decision that I would care for him the best I could but when I felt my sanity slipping I would have to let him go. It was difficult but I followed through on that decision. I felt like we may have shortened his life by a few weeks but he was loved and cared for well when he was here. Shortly after I let him go he returned to me in spirit to let me know what he could jump and bounce again (two activities he had not been able to do in his older years). While I had a lot of doubts about letting him go, I have come to peace with the decision.

Sometimes reaching out to a vet, a hospice group or other people who are skilled in working with death will help. I have worked with my friend Rose DeDan with almost all my animals surrounding death. She is a local shaman and has helped to make my animal companions’ passing easier and has been able to facilitate communication between us so that I could say goodbye at the end. Many of my clients have also worked with her.

Some things I tell people to watch for are the following
Is your cat or dog eating?
Do they still enjoy pets and affection? Do they make eye contact?
What is their pain level? Can medication take away most of their pain?
Is there a chance that things will turn around and they will get better? Or is what they have terminal and will continue to get worse?
How is your health? Are you able to take care of yourself well enough to be a good caregiver to your animal companion?

I also have the three-day rule I often follow, many older animals seem to have stretches of one or two bad days but when they reach three they are much less likely to bounce back. Three days without eating or connecting is often a sign they are ready to pass on if they have a terminal disease.

No situation is the same. We must all find our own peace. And when we truly love there is no bad decision when it is made with the heart. Follow your heart, love them while they are here, and remember that they will forever live on in own hearts because love never dies. We lose a friend but gain a furry guardian angel.

2 Responses to “Saying goodbye to our animal friends – how to decide when it is time to help them die”

  1. Michelle Nichols Says:

    Nice article. What do you think about allowing them to die naturally, when under excellent pain management? We will be hosting some upcoming events that have the potential to expand awareness on this topic. It’s especially relevant for those whose values, goals and beliefs are not consistent with euthanasia.

  2. Lena Says:

    For most of my clients dying naturally is not an option. I believe you need 24 hour care in many animals if that is possible and most people have families or jobs that take them away from their animals. I also find that sometimes pain management is not enough to control extreme pain. I have had clients who choose to do a natural death but most do not. If they can give 24 hour care, their animal is not in extreme pain and they have enough support around them that the client can also sleep and take care of themselves I think it is possible. I think most importantly most people want to be able to end their animals’ lives when they reach a point of suffering or when they no longer have quality of life.