Your Pet has a Terminal Illness
You have just discovered that your beloved pet is sick. It may be with
something all the advances in medicine cannot fix or help. If treatment is
available it is expensive with limited success. It may not be feasible
financially, personally, or in your pets best interest to continue treatment
despite your undying love for them. You feel numb as if you will wake up
from this horrible dream any minute. Sadly you know you have limited time
with your pet what can you do.
Knowledge is Power
Become informed about the condition your pet has.
What possible treatment options are there? What are the successes
of these treatments? What are the side effects of treatment? How long will
it prolong his life? Is this the best decision for your pet considering
age, financial situation, personal time, quality of life?
Talk with your vet; begin to understand what exactly physiologically
is occurring with your pet. Understand the symptoms he may be experiencing
or will experience in the future. Ask what to expect as the condition
progresses? How long will he continue to have a good quality of life?
If in doubt, explore the option of a second opinion. Remember this
is your pet...if you feel your veterinarian does not seem to be
accommodating your needs or feel is pushing you in a certain direction it is
ok to seek a second opinion. (Most veterinarians will welcome the idea and
respect your wishes.)
Getting a second opinion may also help you know you did everything
you could for your loved one. Sometimes it helps to hear the information
from multiple sources and reconfirms the sad news...allowing you to know for
certain it was proper the diagnosis.
Often we know there is no more we can do but sometimes it helps to
hear it from multiple sources or again from the same source to avoid the
vicious cycle of feeling more could have been done and the ‘what ifs’ that
often follow the loss of a pet.
Make Boundaries for Yourself
Terminal illnesses such as cancer often have various treatments that
can be explored. While success is seen treatments sometimes they are not
viable for various reasons including financial, personal, and what you feel
your pet desires.
Once you become knowledgeable about your pets condition and various
treatments sit down with your family and veterinarian. Decide given all the
factors what the best is for you and your pet. While hard decide what you
will and you won’t do. It is important to have thought through the various
It is always ok to change your mind, but it is better to have fully
thought through something and avoid having to make a difficult decision that
was not explored during the midst of an emergency.
Define Quality of Life for Your Pet (Also see
Quality of Life)
It is important you look at his best interest. Of course you do not want to
lose your pet but you do not want him to suffer either. Pay attention to
your pet. Define a good quality of life for him.
If it is a younger dog...then perhaps jumping around, playing with the
children, playing with his favorite toy is quality of life. If it is an
older dog perhaps a good quality of life is that he is able to continue to
be mobile, appears happy when you come home, and still has an appetite.
Is he in any discomfort...difficulty breathing, poor appetite, incontinence,
does he still appear happy?
Some recommend you write down a list of the things your pet loves to do.
From getting excited at dinner time, to going for walks. Write these things
down before you notice the disease taking a toll on them. As the disease
progresses, continue to notice the list...does it seem like the list of
things they seem to enjoy is getting shorter and shorter.
Here are some ideas to reflect on:
Spend Extra Time with Your Pet
If he only has a limited amount of time he will be active, take him to his
favorite spots...the dog park, the river, out to the barn...whatever they
enjoy doing. If it will not interfere with his medication fix them their
favorite food (Some foods can actually make a condition such as kidney
failure worse so please consult your vet before giving additional treats.)
It can be very difficult to know you only have a limited amount of time with
your pet. You feel as if you can’t really start to grieve his loss because
he is still alive. The anticipation and knowing can be really difficult.
Allow yourself to feel these emotions.
Give yourself permission to be emotional, even when they are feeling fine.
It is going to be hard as their tail is wagging, or purring and you know
your time is limited. It is ok to feel sad, even now.
You may find yourself becoming distant with your pet. While a normal
response, your pet will not understand and you may later come to regret it
and cause guilt at not making the best of the last few weeks or months you
have with your pet.
Work through the emotions you are feeling through journaling, talking with
friends and family, contacting us at the hotline. Remember we are here to
help you...even if you want a listening ear of what you are going through.
Start Saying Goodbye
Sadly, you know your pet is going to die and you have a limited amount of
time with them. Utilize this time. Some owners often deny their pet is
terminally ill...and later when they pass the owner feels as if they wasted
precious time with their pet.
Take pictures, celebrate your pets life, write about your favorite memories
together, make more happy memories with the time you have left. If they
like it, brush your pet, cuddle and talk with them
Making the final decision:
Decide where and how you would like the euthanasia performed. Many
veterinary practices offer at home services and will come to your house to
perform the euthanasia. You can do it in front of the fireplace or in the
backyard surrounded by family.
Remember when performing it at home...that place may become a constant
reminder of the loss of your pet. Perhaps find ways to soften the
environment with a picture of your pet, or flowers planted.
If you choose to have it done at your veterinarian’s office decide who would
like to be present. If you would like to be the only one with your
pet...ask a friend to drive you. Following the euthanasia you will be very
emotional and it is unsafe to drive during this time.
Decide what you want done with his remains, most veterinary practices offer
can have your pet cremated and either give the ashes back or have them
spread somewhere. You can have an at Home Burial. Pet cemeteries are also
an option in some areas. If you do not want the remains back...you vet can
dispose of the body.
While you may have been grieving at the knowledge you pet will die for
sometime; often following the loss of your pet your grief may be more
profound. See the Grieving Process