Knowing when to say goodbye to a pet
This blog post has been written by Dr Samantha Gaines, our Head of Companion Animals.
Today marks National Pet Day 2019 and this year for me, is particularly poignant. Several weeks ago we had to make the really tough decision to have Sidney, our 13-year-old Labrador mastiff, put to sleep.
Sid was diagnosed with lymphoma and given a month to live
My husband had been sitting with Sid one evening and while stroking him noticed that he had several lumps under his neck. We took him to the vet the next day and shortly after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. The prognosis was not good - without treatment he was given only 4-6 weeks to live and even with treatment, the outlook remained poor and wouldn't significantly extend his life.
All of this came as a real shock. Sid appeared a very happy and healthy dog and had only a few months before been given the all clear following surgery and radiotherapy for another type of cancer. We found ourselves yet again facing a number of different options and difficult decisions but this time with a dog who was well into his twilight years and had only recently gone through intensive cancer treatment.
One option was chemotherapy which we ruled out pretty much straight away. We simply didn't want to put him through any more. The other option was a steroidal treatment which would help manage the disease. However, this was likely to lead to increased hunger, drinking and urination. From a lifestyle and practical point of view, this was going to be difficult to manage, for us and most importantly, Sid.
Realistically it would only mean only a few extra weeks and so we decided against this course of treatment as well. This left us with one final option - letting the disease run its natural course until we were no longer confident he was experiencing a good quality of life and he needed to be put to sleep. This left us with the most difficult decision of all - when would be the right time to say goodbye?
His quality of life was more important than us not wanting to let him go
Sid has been a huge part of our family in every way. He has been in my daughter's life for seven years and with my husband and myself me for ten. He has always been thought of - and treated as - a family member and very much loved as one. Although the thought of saying goodbye to him was heartbreaking, I also knew that at no point could we let him suffer - his quality of life was far more important than us not wanting to let him go.
It was only a few weeks after Sid had been diagnosed with cancer that we booked the euthanasia appointment. It wasn't that his quality of life had dramatically changed or that I thought he was suffering but there were little things like slowing down on his walks and not wanting to go very far. He was also a little more restless than usual and seemed to find it less easy to get comfortable when lying down. Although he appeared happy for much of the time it was clear that wasn't going to be the case for much longer.
Sid's last evening was spent swimming and playing ball
The week prior to the appointment was incredibly hard and on several occasions, I questioned whether I was making the right decision. A particular challenge was the feeling that I was doing it too early and whether I should give him a few extra days.
At this point, I chose to speak to friends and work colleagues who reminded me that, not only was I making the right decision, but that euthanasia gave Sid a pain-free and dignified ending. This was a huge help and allowed me to focus on making sure Sid's final days were full of the things that he enjoyed.
The day before his euthanasia was spent dozing in the sun and on the sofa and he spent his last evening swimming and playing ball on the beach. I like to think that this is what he would have chosen to do if he'd known what was happening and it definitely created some lovely memories for us.
By the time it came to the appointment we were well prepared. Our vet had talked us through what to expect and what would happen to Sid. He passed very quickly and peacefully with both of us next to him and we were able to sit with him afterwards so that we could properly say goodbye.
This was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do
The decision to say goodbye to Sid and actually doing it is, by far, the hardest thing I have ever had to do but I am without doubt that it was the right decision. As a very good friend said to me 'it is the last kindness we can do to avoid any suffering.'
If you have been affected by the loss of a pet then please visit our pet bereavement page. You will find lots of information and support on pet bereavement as well as further guidance on euthanasia.