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Watchful Waiting with our Pets

During the end of a pet’s life we engage in watchful waiting. The definition of waiting is to delay action until a particular time or event happens, to defer, or to remain in readiness for some purpose. We have both fears for our pets and fears for ourselves. The JOURNEYS Quality of Life scale addresses many of these concerns.

We may fear our pet will have a sudden catastrophic event– like a seizure, respiratory distress, or severe internal bleeding. We worry this may occur when we are not at home. Underlying this fear is our own fear of losing control. We want to be able to control what happens to our pet, mitigate the symptoms and severity, and make them feel better. The fact that sometimes no matter what we do, our pet may still suffer is upsetting. In reality we have very little control over much of what happens in our life. We humans like to think we can control the events of the day with our calendars, appointments, and plans; but we can’t. Watchful waiting with our pets is noticing the small things- perhaps our pet being a little more withdrawn, a little more reluctant to eat, a little slower. Many times people have told me that prior to the catastrophic event, they noticed their pet was a little off. Engaging in wishful thinking at this stage can be harmful to our pet- thinking that a wag of a tail or a purr is evidence our pet is just fine can be ignoring the clear evidence that they are not.

Another fear we may feel is the fear of making a wrong decision or that our pet will be “mad” at us for making the decision to euthanize. We worry that our pet may have one good day left, or is it better to let them go before they have that really bad day? I feel our pets live in the moment and when they are feeling poorly that is their whole experience. Underlying this fear for our pets may be our own fear of death, the afterlife, and the unknown. Our pets do not have this fear- they do not think about nor do they care about what comes after death. They are afraid of pain, hunger, being unable to move, and being unable to breathe.

Combined with this fear is our fear of the euthanasia process, and that the end may be scary for them. The euthanasia process we use is designed to help the pet relax, be pain free, and fall gently asleep before the euthanasia. The pet is surrounded by family, at home where they are most comfortable, and not aware of the end. They are able to pass when they are comfortably asleep.

The last fear we have is the fear of our loss and life without our beloved pet. We may fear our grief and loneliness we will feel after they pass. Experiencing anticipatory grief is a normal part of losing someone we love. Understanding what we are feeling may help us to make better decisions for our pet’s sake, instead of holding on to false hope when our pet is failing.

We choose to have a life with a pet because we want the love, companionship and joy in our lives. We unselfishly choose to release our pet because they deserve to be set free from suffering. The love and joy returns to us in our memories.