Recently I have had to say goodbye to my cat, Felix, whom we were
lucky to share 17 years with.
Sadly I had to make the decision to say goodbye to him, and this has had me thinking how hard it is to do both emotionally and practically. Today I would like to share with you a number of ways to cope emotionally when you are faced with the Hercules task of preparing for the loss of a pet.
I will cover the practical side in a future blog.
How do you know if it is time to consider euthanasia?
To answer this question I have been reflecting on my personal journey in preparing for the loss of a pet, our cat Felix.
I realized that I had been monitoring his health on an emotional level for the last year, not just his physical health. Is he still happy, does he still want company or does he spend more and more time on his own? How does he react to being left alone, is he depressed?
So what I was actually gauging was how much his emotional behavior had altered. One of the key factors that brought it home to me that I probably needed to start considering euthanasia, was when I realized he was lying in the rain, and making no effort to come in under cover. My Felix hated getting wet, he would never tolerate water on him. This made it so clear to me that it was time to stop thinking of my emotions and time to consider his.
I realized that he was probably a combination of depressed, going senile and just beyond taking care of himself.
Ask yourself what you honestly believe your pets quality of life is like? Is he or she old, sick, incontinent, unhappy, still part of your family, or spends most of his or her time sleeping and hiding away?
Accepting Your Pets Fate
Coming to the conclusion that I needed to consider euthanasia for my strong, beautiful cat was hard enough, acting on it was another matter altogether.
I did not know how to accept his fate. After all he was still eating, drinking, had his eyesight, hearing and was able to move around on his own.
It is so much easier to accept your pets fate if their physical quality of life has totally deteriorated, but it is so much harder based on their emotional quality of life.
When I started to be totally honest with myself I began to understand that his physical and emotional quality of life had actually deteriorated immensely and that I needed to accept that it was time to talk to the vet about euthanasia. I had not wanted to accept that even though he was eating, he was skin and bones. Yes he could move, but slowly and probably painfully.
If you are struggling to come to terms with your pets fate, I would suggest discussing your pets health and asking for advice from someone you trust and you know loves your pet.
Speaking to your vet to get reassurance on your decision, or to actually help you make a decision, is another way of dealing with the emotion of considering euthanasia
Preparing your family for the loss of a pet
My husband loved Felix as much as I did, but when it came time to prepare for the loss of our pet, he could not handle it at all.
I had already spent about a year broaching the subject that Felix was now 16 and would not be with us for much longer and that we really should start considering euthanasia for the future. I did this to bring the subject of euthanasia, and the emotional aspect of dealing with the potential loss of our cat out into the open. I encouraged the family to talk about euthanasia and their feelings about it.
Even though Felix was old and not such an active member of the family anymore, we made sure we took time out to spend on a one on one basis with him. In this way we made new memories with him.
Over the next year, we took photos of Felix, videos and generally shared a number of happy stories about him. I believe that when you are preparing for the loss of a pet, talking of the good times, taking photos and spending quality time with them, helps to keep your emotions lighter and gives you some inner strength to accept their fate.
I realize I was blessed to have a year or more to start coping with the impending loss of my cat. I never knew if I was going to lose him to natural causes or if we would have to euthanize him. However much time you are able to take to say goodbye to your animal, use it to build some new memories, and to spend as much time as possible with your pet, you will be grateful for this time in the future.
Talking to your vet
Dealing with the decision to euthanize your pet may be made easier if you have a discussion with your vet.
They should be able to help you decide on the physical and emotional health of your pet.
They will also be able to explain the euthanasia process in detail to you. Use this time to ask as many questions as you need to.
They should also tell you what to expect once your pet has been euthanized and find out what your plans are to deal with your pets body immediately afterwards. This is especially important if you have a large pet.
While this can be very confronting to do, I feel that knowing what to expect really does make it easier on you to decide if euthanasia is the right decision for your pet, and how you will cope emotionally.
Give family and friends a moment to say goodbye
Making the decision that it is time to farewell your pet gives you the opportunity to allow family and friends to say their goodbyes.
If you have family or friends that cannot face saying goodbye, I suggest letting them be, we all deal with emotional goodbyes and grief in our own personal ways.
When I realized that it was time to say goodbye, my husband was lucky enough to take time off work to farewell Felix.
However, my Father in Law, who loved him dearly, could not cope with this at all and to this day is unable to discuss Felix’s last hours on this earth.
Emotionally I had to dig deep to tell my 5.5 year old what was about to happen. I asked him if he wanted to say goodbye to Felix, which he did, and he asked me the details of what would happen at the vet. He said his goodbyes which was heart wrenching to watch, but so good for him to have the chance to do.
Getting through the euthanasia
Driving my cat to the vet and waiting to be called in for my appointment was probably the hardest part of the euthanasia process for me. I chose to do this on my own, I knew my husband could not cope and I was not ready to share this emotional time with a friend.
You do not have to go this alone if you do not want to, if you have someone who is able to drive you and hold your hand it could be the emotional support you need. The choice is yours. Making a decision beforehand if you have the chance is essential, it is not an easy step to take on your own, emotional support at the vet should not to be underestimated.
Having a clear understanding of what to expect will make it easier to get through, but will not make the emotion any less difficult to handle. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to say your final goodbye. Don’t be afraid to hold your pet. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions, even if you have asked them before.
If you cannot cope with being in the room when your pet is injected this too is okay, remember only you know how to deal with your emotions.
Returning home without your pet
For me the drive home from the vet was emotionally incredibly hard and I had to pull over at least once to get myself under control. In hindsight, I probably should have had a friend drive me.
If you are able to, it may help you to take the rest of the day off work, or take time alone from your routine to reflect and mourn. Having a family member or a friend at home to share your pain, or just hold your hand is one way of dealing with coming home.
You may want to consider asking a family member or friend to tidy up your pets bowls, toys and bed if you know these will cause you too much emotion when you arrive home. They may just need to move them out of sight until you can deal with your pets belongings, or you may ask them to remove them totally. Down the line you may want a memento, so asking that your pets collar, favorite toy or something similar be kept for you is a great idea.
Having a clear idea on how you will deal with your pets body after the euthanasia, and putting a plan into action before-hand, will help ease the emotional strain tremendously. There are a number of options to consider after the euthanasia, and I will chat about these in a separate blog.
It is never easy to say goodbye to our wonderful pets. I strongly believe that euthanasia can be the kindest way sometimes and I personally feel my cat had a calmer more dignified ending to his incredible life by choosing this option when I did.
I am now also grateful that I was there to hold him in my arms and talk to him during his final moments on this earth.
I have been lucky enough to be supported in this decision by all my family and friends, this has helped me in the dark times when I do occasionally question if I made the right choice.
I truly hope that sharing my personal experience with you will help you make the right choice, whatever that may be, whenever you may be faced with the sad choice of preparing for the loss of a pet.
Having covered the emotional roller coaster involved in saying goodbye, in my next blog I will cover the practical side of preparing for the loss of a pet.
If you would like to leave a comment or share your personal experience with me, I would love to hear from you.
It is never easy to say goodbye, but sometimes it is a choice we have to make, just know you are never alone.