By Victoria Swanson — One of many Pet Health blogs on SmartLivingNetwork.com
As I sit and write this, I think of all my previous pets that I've had to make the difficult decision to "let go" (humane euthanization). As a pet-parent, this type of decision is the hardest. Saying goodbye is never easy; I would know, as I've had to do it too many times to count.
My cat, Cody (a gray tabby), moved in with me when I was 18 years old and experienced so much life with me. He put up with many new homes, welcomed my two children home, was there for me through all my "ups and downs," and tolerated me adopting another cat.
Cody adopted me as he was living in my parents' wood pile in the back of our yard for about a month - shortly before I graduated from high school. We worked very hard to gain his trust. One day, he decided it was time to let me know he was ready for a family again. My vet estimated he was about 7-8 years old at that time, and he lived until he was roughly 18 years old.
How did I make the decision when it was time to say goodbye to my best friend, my confidant, my buddy? Cody showed signs of aging rapidly after he turned 15 years old. Simple things like climbing stairs and jumping on the bed became more difficult for him. You could see he was starting to struggle with arthritis. His fur wasn't as soft and silky; instead, it was becoming rough and straggly. He slept more, and his activity level was at an extreme low. I was very thankful that Cody didn't lose his eyesight, but I could tell he was struggling with his hearing. The bottom line is I knew I didn't want to continue to see Cody struggle in his "senior" years. With all my pets, I prefer to remember them in their happier and healthier moments. Is that selfish? Maybe. Would it be more selfish to let them cling to life so I could have a few more months or years with them?
This is a personal decision. However, I feel that we also have to be careful to not be selfish. Meaning that, if your pet is physically and mentally struggling, the prolonging of their state of health is only going to be for yourself, not for them. I've had a client that had five dogs, and one of her dogs (the oldest), was blind, deaf, struggled terribly with walking, and physically looked really bad. You could just see this 16-year-old dog was not in good condition. Her groomer and I tried to explain in the kindest way that it might be time to make the difficult decision of saying goodbye. Her response was that her dog would let her know when it is time. I was so sad to think how bad this dog must have been feeling and the pet-parent was waiting for her dog to "tell her" it was time. This women is one of the kindest people I know, but her struggle to say goodbye to her dog was excruciatingly painful to watch.
I don't doubt that some animals do let us know when it is "time" to let them go, but at what cost, as their pet-parent, do we hold off to do the inevitable?
I knew an elderly man that had a cat that was 18 years old, whom he loved very much! When the time came to say goodbye to his furry feline, he couldn't do it. The cat became a "bag of bones," stopped using the litter box, and was just miserable. He kept the cat locked up in his tool room for many months because he wasn't ready to say goodbye, and didn't want to deal with him not using the litter box. Watching this was heartbreaking, and to know that this wonderful pet lived out his remaining days in a tool room is too much to think about.
Yes, this is a personal decision that both of these individuals had to make. We need to be careful not to let our emotions supersede the logical decision of knowing when it is time for our pets to leave us.
Being a dog trainer, I've been to many appointments where the pet-parents have an aging dog and get a new puppy hoping their aging dog will teach the new puppy some manners.
In some aspects, this can work out just fine, reviving an elderly dog's youthful spirit is a good thing. A young puppy can get an older dog to play, and many elderly dogs respond very well to having a spunky pup in their home.
However, from the other perspective, these are also your dog's retirement years. They're enjoying the serenity, the leisure walks with their pet-parent, and loads of extra sleep. A puppy wants to do just the opposite: non-stop play, nipping, pulling on walks - all manners that an older dog may not have any inclination, nor patience, to teach a youthful, out of control pup.
The most important thing to consider in these situations is your elderly pet's physical and mental well-being. A young puppy or kitten pouncing and biting at their aging friend can add misery to the growing aches and pains of an aging dog. So, when asked if it's a good idea to introduce a puppy or kitten to a "senior" dog or cat in the home, I'm not a big fan of the idea. Instead, consider a slightly younger adult dog or cat that is passed their obnoxious puppy or kitten years. They might offer your elderly pet an opportunity to get more active and enjoy this new companionship.
Still not sure? I always tell people to ask yourself this question: When you retire, would you like to have a newborn baby in the house 24/7? If the answer is no, then you can understand how your elderly pet might feel.
Saying goodbye to our beloved and best furry friends is never easy. They share unconditional love and trust with us. We should always put their well-being before ours when making this decision. If your beloved pet is suffering in pain and struggling with what used to be everyday normal behavior, it might be time to say goodbye.
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