One of the saddest things about life is that most pets don’t live as long as we do. But the best thing we can offer them is a wonderful life and a peaceful end when the suffering becomes too much. That is the greatest gift of love.
It doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times you go through it. After all, it does entail making the decision to take a life. For many people there is the ultimate set of questions: Is it time? Or could they get better? Is it too soon? What will I do without them? Afterwards you may feel guilt or that you made the wrong decision.
For me, my animals have always told me. Somehow, on that last day, they have let me know it was time. I am never sure what it is – maybe a look they give me, or their body language. But I have known. And I have never doubted or regretted my decision. But for some people it is not that easy. Remember always that animals (particularly cats) hide their pain and illness as long as they can, as a survival instinct. So by the time they do show they are not well, things are often quite advanced. If a cat has hyperthyroidism, they do eat a lot, often right to the end, even though they are very very ill. So eating is not always a sign they are healthy. Cats purr when they are stressed or in pain, meaning that end-of-life purring is not necessarily a sign they are happy and healthy. Naturally these are not always bad signs. Your vet will let you know for sure.
My suggestion is to ask yourself if you would be keeping your beloved pet alive for yourself, or for them. If it is for yourself, then it is probably time. The most important thing is that they do not suffer, not that you will miss them. I have heard people say ‘I am not ready to let them go’, but ultimately it is not about you, it is about them. If they are suffering and their quality of life is limited, then it is time.
I try to make the last hours and the end as peaceful and happy as possible. A last walk, a last cuddle or treat (if your animal is still able to eat). And the vet comes home to us so that there is no last minute stressful trip to the vet. If the animal has a collar, it stays on so they don’t become confused and anxious at the change. If the animal has a favourite place, then their last minutes will be there. If you need to take your cat to the vet to be euthanised, many vet’s offices light a candle in the reception when a family is saying its goodbye to a beloved family member. This allows for silence and peace.
This was Fluffy on our last walk together, about 15 minutes before the vet came. He was not able to eat and his vision was cloudy, but he loved sniffing around his favourite places. He went peacefully in my arms, and we sat with him for a while afterwards.
If you have never been through it before, the procedure usually involves a sedative injection first (so they go into a deep sleep), followed by another injection that they do not even feel. It is quick and peaceful. They go to sleep and peacefully slip away. I always allow my other pets to smell and examine the body as it seems to help them understand and grieve less afterwards.
Despite the peace you have given your pet, the next days may be very hard. You turn around expecting to see them behind you waiting for their donner, or see their favourite spot on the sofa empty. The house may feel silent and empty. Don’t push yourself to take up bowls or wash their blanket. Let it take the time it needs to. If you feel you would feel better removing their things, do it. But if it comforts you to have them there, leave them where they are. Everyone grieves differently.
Sometimes giving a new animal a home with you soon helps the grieving, particularly if you have other animals who feel lonely. Only you will know when you are ready.
I always have individual cremations and I keep the urns on a little memorial shelf so that they can move with us. One exception was our outside cat Tusse. We sprinkled his ashes on his favourite sunny rocks in the garden. This made me sad when we moved so I have since then kept the urns and brought them with me wherever I go. If this is not for you, there may be a memorial garden for pets nearby, or a small pet graveyard.
There are ways to memorialise your pet – plant their ashes with a tree (in a pot if you move a lot, so that you can take it with you), have memorial jewellery made, buy a beautiful urn to display, have a photograph printed or painting made.
If you are on this page because you have lost a beloved furry family member, my deepest condolences on your loss. All of us who have lost a beloved pet know the awful feeling, and my thoughts are with you.