One of the most common questions a veterinarian will hear is “How will I know when it’s time to say goodbye?” This may be one of the most difficult questions you will ever have to ask your vet and it is certainly one of our most challenging ones to answer. There is no simple answer to this question, but rather a start to a conversation.
Our pets, by nature, have a shorter life expectancy than we do. They also, by nature, do not think about or fear death the way we do. They are too busy living. Animals experience life in the present moment. They sense what is going on in and around them in “real-time” and they are keenly sensitive to the moods, behaviors and emotional states of people, especially the people they love. So if you are suffering with thoughts of losing them, fearing the future, or worried about what to do, they will sense it and suffer right along with you, magnifying their dis-ease. When we pause to consider this time from our pets’ perspective, another more empowering question to ask might be, “How do I want my beloved pet to experience this time we have left together?” What would they want?
Unfortunately, we won’t always have the privileged of even asking these questions, and some will leave us before we’ve had the chance to say goodbye. But when we do have this chance, and we remember a simple truth that all life is transient, imagine this time you have left to share with each other as a gift, an opportunity to express your love and appreciation for them. They will sense it. Feeling your genuine love and gratitude will be the bridge you both need to ease the uncertainty of this time. This sense of love and gratitude will also ease in their transition, because when you are fully present with them, they are too. Then, when they are ready to leave the discomfort of their physical form, while remaining forever in your heart, you will know. They will tell you; just trust yourself to quiet your thoughts and listen with your heart.
Your veterinarian can assist you during this time by providing you with medical information about your pet that can help you understand what to expect. Ask your vet, and share how you are feeling, including what is contributing to any emotional conflicts that you may be experiencing. Remember, though, just like in any healing profession, individual veterinarians will have different capabilities and comfort in dealing with their client’s emotional needs. Your vet may be able to meet those needs, but if not, seek out other resources. New and growing areas in veterinary medicine include emotional support coaching for making difficult decisions and palliative-hospice care for in home management of pets as they approach their end of life. If this is something you are interested in, speak with your veterinarian to see if these are services they might offer or refer you for. Because ultimately, it’s about being present for your pet and remembering that when you love them in the moment, that is their experience too.