June 14, 2022

When it’s time to say goodbye

Written by July Hebbel of Tauranga Te Puna Katikati Papamoa Village Vets

We knew Buddy’s time was near. His cancer had grown and become more aggressive in the months and weeks past. He was our beloved family cat for over 12 years, and I didn’t expect his illness and passing to hit me so hard. But it did.

Tears streamed when I talked to my vet (and colleague) about his prognosis and about how much time he had left. The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and also to his paw. He wouldn’t be given his yearly vaccinations and there was no point in doing the operations ‘freezing’ the cancer with liquid nitrogen that we had done in the past to hold off the disease.

In the months leading up to his death, I started feeling guilty for not giving Buddy the attention he deserved at times, especially during the years our children were young. I felt sadness and worry for him (was he in pain?) and felt the need to give him more of my time and love during the time he had left.

“You’ll know when the time is right,” vet Tony would tell me. How would I know? He’d lived with his skin cancer (Squamous cell carcinoma) for several years which was already surprising, he stills eats and drinks and purrs when he jumps on my daughter’s bed and snuggles on her chest every night.

But we did know when the time was right – small, gradual changes in behaviour and there was no denying his very visible cancer was upsetting him in the very last weeks and days.

The very last morning, he never got out of bed. This had never happened before. We knew the time was right and seems like maybe he knew too.

What to expect with euthanasia

With our cat, his cancer was obvious – we saw it every day under his ear and on his nose, but this is often not the case with sick animals.

Vet at Tauranga Vets Dr Elisia Jones says the choice of putting a beloved pet down is a very personal decision, a humane decision and as a veterinary professional it is her job to be a sort of ‘voice’ for the pet – to try and tell the owners what the animal cannot say in order to ease their pain and suffering.

“It’s important for the owners to understand the illness or ailment the pet is suffering from, to be aware of the different outcomes associated, to be aware of behavior changes they may be displaying,” she says, adding that you as the owner are the best person to assess your pet’s quality of life.

Elisia says the best way to prepare your pet for euthanasia is to spend good quality time with them such as taking them on a walk, playing with them, cuddling them, perhaps even giving them a special meal. “Bringing them in with their favourite blanket or toy is always a nice idea,” she adds.

The process of euthanising a cat or dog is generally very quick, simple and painless for the animal. It is the most common way pets finish their lives. Vets generally euthanise a beloved family pet several times a week either in the clinic or in homes. They will help you through the process by being kind, empathetic and patient.

Animals are known to pick up on our emotions, so when you come into the clinic try to remember the fact that you are doing what is best for them.

“We always allow owners to take some time with their pet during the process and try to keep the environment as stress-free and peaceful as possible. After injecting them, the animal will fall asleep and then pass away in around 30 seconds,” says Elisia.

Vet Dr Anne Shilston recently lost her Golden Retriever Molly and says grief and loss is different for everyone, saying it’s helpful to talk about your special bond, remembering the important contributions you have made to each other’s lives.

“If you have had a close bond with a pet it is very normal to experience strong and sometimes overwhelming feelings when you say goodbye,” she says.  “Pets become a special part of families, lifelong companions and connect to us on on a physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual level.”

Undoubtedly, making the decision to say goodbye to your pet is one of the hardest decisions many of us need to make. Vets understand the special place our pets hold in hearts and how tough it can be to say goodbye, they will most likely have suffered the loss of their own animal at some point in the past too. They know too well the heartbreak and the lingering heartache that follows the death of a pet. After all, they are animal lovers first and foremost and will try and make saying goodbye as easy as possible, as difficult as it may be.

If you would like to talk to someone or want advice for your pet, please call Tauranga Te Puna Katikati Papamoa Village Vets on 0800 838 7267.