It's likely to be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make.
How do you know when it is time to say goodbye to a well-loved pet? Every dog that has ever owned us has lived inside our homes for more than a decade and were considered important members of our family.
But, how do you know when it is selfishness that stops you from letting a pet go when the most compassionate course is to help it cross the rainbow bridge?
Much as we would all love our animals to die quietly in their sleep, in reality, it is almost never that easy.
The American Humane Association lists ways to help you make the decision and suggests you talk with your veterinarian to help guide you. A vet may be able to tell you definitively when the time has arrived to euthanize your pet.
Realistically, you will ultimately need to make the decision because you are really the only one who knows your pet. The AHA suggests the following signs that may help you decide if your pet is suffering and no longer able to enjoy a good quality of life.
• The pet has chronic pain that can't be controlled with medication (your veterinarian can help determine if your pet is in pain).
• He has frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss.
• He has stopped eating or will only eat if you force-feed him.
• He is incontinent to the degree that he frequently soils himself.
• He has lost interest in all or most of his favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members.
• He cannot stand on his own or falls down when trying to walk.
• He has chronic labored breathing or coughing.
Once you have made the decision, the hardest part is seeing it through to the end. You will need to decide how and where you will say your final goodbyes and everyone in the family should be given some time to say a private farewell.
You should explain to young children what you are doing and prepare them for the loss of their friend. The AMA recommends children's books that will help them understand the concept of death such as "When a Pet Dies" by Fred Rogers or "Remembering My Pet" by Machama Liss-Levinson and Molly Phinney Baskette.
Decide whether you want to be present during the process. It is one of the most personal decisions you can make. Some people will find this emotionally overwhelming. Others may feel they must be there, comforting their pet until his final moments.
Discuss with your veterinarian how it will work before the procedure. The doctor may choose to give the pet an anesthetic or sedative that allows your pet to be very relaxed or sleeping before administering an injection of sodium pentobarbital.
When the procedure is complete, you may decide to have the remains cremated or you might want to take the body home for burial in your backyard. Check local ordinances to make sure it is legal. There are also pet cemeteries.
Don't be afraid to hold a memorial service for your pet if it will help ease your pain. Don't allow critics to deter you from what is right for you.