As pet owners, we know that deciding when to say goodbye to a beloved family pet is the hardest task we face. Caught between not wanting to cut their lives short and not wanting to go too long, this is the hardest decision we make as pet owners. I think one of the reasons this is such a hard task is that our pets cannot tell us they are tired of fighting, and it’s upon us to look for these signs from our pets. I believe saying goodbye to pets is often harder than saying goodbye to our own family. For all the joy they bring to our lives, I feel we owe it to them to have a peaceful end of life transition. Over the years, I have morphed into a cat person, but don’t get me wrong I still love dogs too. It all started with my gateway cat, Bob. He was a very friendly boy and worked his way into my heart. Fast forward a few years, I am in vet school and my beloved study partner Bob is having a multitude of health problems. Bob was always a good traveler and excellent for any tests and treatments he went through, he never had a mean bone in his body. Here was the problem, Bob was always so good for everything, that as treatment after treatment piled on, I never was able to see how bad he was really doing. One of my biggest regrets as a pet owner has always been that I continued attempting to treat Bob because I was not ready to say good bye, when looking back he was clearly tired of fighting. When our emotions are high, it can be very difficult to see things logically.
After doing many end of life house calls, I came to realize this is a common challenge for pet owners when they are faced with this decision for a beloved pet. Using the experience I learned from Bob, I realized just because we can do a lot of medical intervention doesn’t mean we have to. If treatments are not working, are too stressful for our pets or affecting their quality of life, it is okay to start a conversation about hospice care or an end of life transition. Shortly after Bob passed, my next kitty found his way to me. George was a healthy, 10-12 year old cat, he was a character, and not afraid to make his needs known. I always found his demands heartwarming and he always repaid me with cuddles, head butts and biscuits. When George was about 16, he developed a severe chronic ear infection and eventually we found out he had inner ear cancer.. George was mostly good for anything, but due to his age, I decided I did not want to put him through a painful surgery and would keep him comfortable until he was no longer experiencing joy in his life. When we could no longer keep his ear comfortable and pain free, he made his transition to kitty heaven. It was not easy deciding not to pursue surgery for him, but in his case, I felt it was more respectful to his life and memory. I wanted to share some of my personal stories, to help pet owners in the same situation realize that there is no right decision. End of life decisions are different for every person and for every pet. They are never easy and always gut wrenching. If you are struggling making the decision, find someone who you feel comfortable talking it through with.
Katrina Stanchev is co-owner of Compassionate Hands In Home Veterinary Services, that specializes in hospice and end of life care for pets. In addition, her mobile practice also offers many other routine veterinary services for pets in their homes. Her practice serves San Luis Obispo County in California.