I might as well call this “Don’t Read This Article”
September 5, 2014 7:26 AM   Subscribe

How to Know When it’s Time to Euthanize Your Dog
The most important thing to be alert for is The Look. It’s capitalized because it is a Real Thing. At some point near the end of its life, your dog will make eye contact with you. There will be something about that particular eye contact that you will recognize when you see it. Your dog will tell you, as clearly as if they had it notarized, that they are ready to go.
At Dear Prudence, Pet Euthanasia and Can I Lie About It?
...the subject of euthanizing her has come up at home and briefly in the vet’s office. Is this wrong? And if we decide to go down this path, am I obligated to be honest about why she was put down when relatives and friends ask?
posted by almostmanda (96 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The Look is real, we had it from our family dog (but really My Dog as I'd grown up with him). He'd gotten to a grand old age and was starting to have the Good days, Bad days come into balance. I found him under his favourite lilac bush and he gave me the look that said that he didn't want to go on.
So I took him to our lovely vet and he passed knowing he was loved. I still visit him under that bush when I visit my folks and talk to him. I'm weeping here, twenty years later but dammit, they're our best friends and you gotta be kind.
posted by arcticseal at 7:42 AM on September 5, 2014 [49 favorites]

At some point near the end of its life, your dog will make eye contact with you. There will be something about that particular eye contact that you will recognize when you see it. Your dog will tell you, as clearly as if they had it notarized, that they are ready to go.

That was so true for me. The article was really fantastic.

I think, though, she underestimates the degree to which the vet will give you a hard sell even though you know it is right for your dog. My vet basically treated me like a murderer. This was not helpful on what was already the worst day of my life.

I would honestly recommend going to a different vet for that final visit, just because if you get judged like that it's at least not someone you've been seeing for ten or more years treating you as if you were the most horrible human being on earth because you don't want to do a bunch of expensive interventions that have very little hope of improving your dog's condition.
posted by winna at 7:44 AM on September 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have seen hundreds of people worry that they waited too long to euthanize their dog, but I only remember a few who worried about the opposite.

This is so true. I have friends who have put themselves through months of caring for terribly sick terminally ill pets and I've always hoped I would have the strength to end it sooner if I were in that position. The two pets I've lost as an adult both died suddenly, for which I am grateful. I would rather face the shock of losing them unexpectedly than the drawn-out agony of watching them die slowly and having to make the decision of when to let go.
posted by something something at 7:44 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have two 14 year old beagles, one of which is clearly not doing well as of late. I'm afraid to click through.
posted by COD at 7:51 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm disappointed with the first link. The thing is -- so many people don't know (cf: AskMefi), and are so torn about it, and may remain so for the rest of their life.

I can appreciate that the intent of the article was to provide some guidelines or parameters, but that quote of 'your animal will tell you, and you'll know' is just needlessly guilt-inducing for too many people.

You aren't an awful pet parent if you don't just "know" and your relationship with your pet isn't any less just because your pet wasn't able "tell you clearly".

It's great and healing if it went for you that way, but it isn't that way for everyone, and it's just not helpful to romanticize it.
posted by Dashy at 7:52 AM on September 5, 2014 [64 favorites]

We euthanized our elderly rabbit who was showing signs of dementia and getting aggressive. We had lived with her aggression for some time but when our baby came along, we just couldn't risk it any more. There were no treatment options left (that's actually the perfect line- stolen from the second link) and we put her down. It was so hard - we felt like monsters for euthanizing a pet because of behavioural issues. I tell myself that she wouldn't have been so aggressive if she were happy and free of pain- she likely had physical issues/pain that she just couldn't tell us about.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:52 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My wife is a vet and has had people who wanted to euthanize their (perfectly healthy) animals for bizarre or arbitrary reasons (they seem anxious, they're coughing, etc.). Of course, she exercises her right to decline performing the euthanasia. Just know that vets are not Judgmental Assholes who don't get the whole end-of-life thing; it's complicated.
posted by argybarg at 7:56 AM on September 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

And if you trust your vet, a consult with your vet, along with your intuitions, is often better than your intuitions alone.
posted by argybarg at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have heard so many stories of truly horrible ways that people have ended their pets' lives (generally due to inconvenience) I've come to the conclusion that if you are heartbroken and torn about whether to euthanize your pet, you are already doing right by your pet.

I should know better than to look at these threads while I'm at work and can't immediately go and hug my best friend. I'm so sorry to everyone who has been in this position.
posted by phunniemee at 7:58 AM on September 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

Just know that vets are not Judgmental Assholes who don't get the whole end-of-life thing; it's complicated.

They may very well get the whole end-of-life thing, but it's probably too much to ask that they not be jaded by terrible experiences and sometimes assume bad intent when none exists. They can, however, refrain from expressing it if they consent to do the procedure.

In my case my dog was completely incontinent, had stopped eating, was having trouble walking and had panic attacks if I was not directly in her line of sight because her dementia (if that's what it's called for dogs) was so bad. If I'd been in that condition I would have wanted to go. But because she could still stand up and walk into the vet's office they assumed I was just tired of her. Because of course I was tired of my only friend and companion who loved me and whom I loved. They had no way to know how much I loved her, but they could have reserved judgment if they were willing to do the procedure. They disapproved, just not enough to refuse to take my money.

It's making me upset all over again thinking about it.
posted by winna at 8:07 AM on September 5, 2014 [23 favorites]

I've been incredibly lucky to have a vet in whom I have complete trust to know when it's time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:11 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hope The Look passage doesn't cause any soul-searching among people who may have made the difficult decision to help their trusty companion check out before they'd even heard of such a thing.
posted by Segundus at 8:12 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think, though, she underestimates the degree to which the vet will give you a hard sell even though you know it is right for your dog. My vet basically treated me like a murderer. This was not helpful on what was already the worst day of my life.

Not our experience at all. We had to euthanize our 12 year old bulldog last Christmas. We took her to the vet for a consult to confirm what we sort of knew but wanted to be talked out of. The vet, who had known her all her life and once saved her life after she got bit by a copperhead, told us it was time. My one regret was that we did not take her back home for a day or two for good-byes. However, she was miserable and I was only a few weeks post-op so it seemed best just to pull the plug. My husband still gets teary when he thinks about her even though we are now training a new puppy. I probably won't tell him about this article.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:13 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hugs to you, winna. That's a terrible experience.

I've been very lucky with my cats. They didn't necessarily tell me (though the last one got unusually clingy) but their physical condition made it obvious that they were dying, and the vet confirmed afterwards that nothing we did or didn't do would have made a difference.
posted by immlass at 8:15 AM on September 5, 2014

I agree with Dashy that you shouldn't feel bad if you don't know... My dog had very soulful eyes and it was pretty easy to read all kinds of thoughts in them that may or may not have existed. So I made the decision based on her diagnosis (lymphoma), age (10 1/2), and eventually her day-to-day quality of life. I also made use of AskMe for some advice.

I feel very lucky that my vet was awesome about it and made it perfectly clear that I did right by my pup. I sometimes worry that I made the call too soon, and it's possible another vet would have pressured us to hang on longer. But my vet was adamant that I was a good pet owner and that helps, a lot.

I'm now facing the same situation (cancer again, dammit) with my 16 year old cat, and it's really hard. She does have Good Days and Bad Days but so far the good are outnumbering the bad. With a cat it seems harder than it was with the dog because she's an old lady and her activity level has been sedate for years now. She's eating, but mostly only because of a daily steroid shot. I will probably once again make the call sooner rather than later. I've already decided no more pills; the shots are easy but pilling her was more stress than I want her to experience in her final days/weeks/months.

(Hugs to you winna and sorry your vet was such an ass about things.)
posted by misskaz at 8:19 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I didn't mean to bring everyone down! I had ten amazing years with the best dog ever. She was my puppy princess!

Behold her in her jammies. She liked the cold, but she got chilly.

I volunteer at a greyhound rescue so I still get to cuddle them, but I miss having a dog of my own. But how can you replace the best dog ever?
posted by winna at 8:26 AM on September 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

Our ex-vet (ex!) put my wife through hell with our good girl mutt Celeste. My wife and I agreed that it was time for her. She was incontinent and really did have "that look." My wife took her to our vet (part of a quite reputable vet practice in our city), and he said that there wasn't anything wrong with her and to leave her at the practice for "testing." It turned quite ugly, as I was at work and dealing with her on the phone and swearing at the vet's office over the phone.

All that to say that I'd recommend winna's advice above. You may want to consider going to a different vet when it's time. We did, and they were respectful and kind, and even sent a condolences card about a week later.

Sheesh, I get all emotional typing it out over a year later.
posted by kuanes at 8:28 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some of the most contempt I have ever felt for another human was a guy who had gotten "the look" from his dog… and couldn't bring himself to do anything about it. Guy was a grad student and his pooch was in pain & could barely walk, yet it followed him up the stairs from his basement apartment everyday.

I told his house mates if he wasn't willing to fulfill the responsibility he took on when he brought the dog home, I'd take up a collection & take it to the vet for him while he sat at home like a punk. Thinking back, my dad would have wired me the money if I told him what it was for. They said no.

I may have subsequently offered to drag the dog's person out back by the collar and kick some sense of adult responsibility into his punk ass. His roomies similarly demurred. None of them were pleased about watching the poor thing hobble around the house, but neither could the bring themselves to jointly confront their roomie and demand he fucking man-up and be a do-right guy, because he would get all emotional and cry.

They were a bunch of punks as well for refusing to demand he be a do-right guy by his animal.

I've cried every time the moment came to put an animal down. Our parrot Bucky died at home, but she got a Viking send-off.

Our current vet is not only staffed w/ compassionate & skilled docs & techs, they've sent us condolence cards after each animal's final visit. Sympathies to anyone who's gotten an asshole vet. I usually assume better of vets than human docs.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:34 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

When I was wrestling with this, I had two people give me some advice that was so good I've repeated it in AskMes.

My aunt - a consummate dog lover - told me that "if it's treatable, then treat it." What she meant was, if what's going on with your pet is something that absolutely would improve with the proper care, then it is your duty to do that. The odds gotta be really good, but yeah.

And then an online acquaintance, who's done a lot of feral cat rescue, told me about "the three A's" - appetite, affection, and activity. If your pet still has all three of those A's generally, then that's good. If you lose one of the A's, something's wrong, but it's more like a "treat it if it's treatable" situation. If you lose two A's, the situation is more severe; if you've lost all three A's, though, then it may very well be time.

My vet was very, very supportive in helping me get through that time. It was actually the very first time Zach was ill ever - it was colon cancer. It took us a couple weeks to figure out what the hell was up, and then when she caught that, she did do the diligence of testing to see whether it would be treatable; but because he was 18, we kind of figured that it may not be a good idea anyway. So then we just did pallative care for a few weeks before I finally scheduled the Last Appointment as a home visit.

However, I'd scheduled it so he and I would have one last day laying around the house and chilling out together, but towards evening on that day he took a downturn and I had to rush him to the pet ER and have them take care of it instead, so he kind of scheduled it for himself. But the saving grace was - from what they told me about his behavior, it's very likely that the very last thing my cat was aware of on this planet was me helping him climb into his favorite chair for a nap. And I'm okay with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on September 5, 2014 [53 favorites]

Ugh we had to do this. It sucked so damn much, and yet I'm glad we did it, and I'm glad we didn't wait a day longer.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:35 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

We were lucky to have a great vet when our dog developed a tumor in his jaw. One morning there was the look. We took him to the vet and discussed things and everyone agreed it was time. It was really sad but we knew. A month later we got a letter from the University of Washington School of Veternary Medicine thanking us for the donation made in the name of our dog. That was a real surprise. The vet did it. It seems he does it for all the animals that are euthanized at his practice. Yeah it was his school but what a nice turn of events at a trying time.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2014 [20 favorites]

But how can you replace the best dog ever?

A BDE can never be replaced. They may only be succeeded by a subsequent BDE.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2014 [47 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, thanks for making me cry in the middle of the bakery.
posted by sutt at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

winna! this was my sweet Bean - looks like a close cousin to your puppy princess. :) A couple years after I lost her I did get another greyhound, and I'm super happy to have this goober in my life. I love him tons, even though he has not remotely replaced my first greyhound in my heart. I hope someday you'll be able to open your heart to a new dog, even though I completely understand the "but she was literally the BEST DOG" feelings. Alina Beans was very special, but Blink Dog is too, in his own and different ways.
posted by misskaz at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

For Better or For Worse.

I miss my dog Patch.

posted by Fizz at 8:45 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry some people have had awful experiences doing something that is already truly awful to experience. I had to say goodbye to my best friend earlier this year, and it was the hardest thing I've ever done. Even if it was the best decision, I still wonder if I made it too soon. I just didn't want him to be in pain and I didn't want him to deteriorate any further since he still had good days. I agonize sometimes over whether or not I should have waited until he had no more good days. It's such a hard thing that is made even worse by people judging your decision.
posted by awesomelyglorious at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Appropriate place to once again share mochapickle's lovely words:

Every time I lose a dog, he takes piece of my heart. Every new dog gifts me with a piece of his. Someday, my heart will be total dog and maybe then I will be just as generous, loving and forgiving.

posted by phunniemee at 8:49 AM on September 5, 2014 [44 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, thanks for making me cry in the middle of the bakery.

Probably also best if we not talk about my emotional state right now, either....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on September 5, 2014

It looks like I haven't recommended it in over a year, so it must be time to mention the book Good Old Dog again- it's a reference book for owners of older dogs, with lots of good advice.
posted by zamboni at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh man, this thread. My pups are still young (3 years and 7 months, respectively) but time goes so fast. I try to savor every moment with them--and with my human loved ones, too--as much as possible, all the time; to live with the attentiveness we usually only wish we had in hindsight...and it's still too fast.

Thanks for this post.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:56 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 13 year old husky mutt is laying on the kitchen floor, enjoying the coolness of the tile. I just gave her an aspirin – she was growly when I stroked her haunches earlier. This thread is making my eyes well up when I look at my Best Dog Ever, but it is appreciated.
posted by tingting at 9:03 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have an aging Kiki, and I dread the day I lose her. We were both wretchedly lonely when we adopted each other, but I also know that I will have to do the right thing by her if time doesn't do it first. So for now, lots of pets and treats and hangouts on the couch and a ramp so she can get on the bed if she wants.

I'm so sorry about everyone's pets, y'all. Losing them is like a knife in the heart. Hugs all around.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 9:04 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

This year is shaping up to be a rough year in our house. Back at Memorial Day, we put my 17.5 year cat, Rita, to sleep. I still feel doubts and pangs, even though she was down to 6 lbs from her original fighting weight of 16 and had lost 2 pounds in 3 months. I gave her sub-q fluids for a year and half.

Now, our nearly 16 year old terrier, Toby, is rapidly receding. He fell over 2 months ago and has been shaky ever since. He's going deaf and seems to be in a mental haze. We've started him on a belly band to prevent accidents and I don't know how we're going to make the decision, although my wife and I talk about it regularly. I think we're mostly watching for the day he stops loving to eat because boy howdy.

After this, we thankfully have a while as our Chihuahuay thingies are 9 (Betty),8 (Sammie),6 (Cookie) and a puppy (Pippy). And then there's our newish cats about 1.5 years old (Izzy, the black poly and her brother Ozzy)
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm so fucking eternally grateful that each time the decision had to be made it was out of my hands, because I feel like I might have made shitty selfish decisions instead of doing the terribly hard but right thing.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The worst thing is when you realize that cats hide away their pain because of predator cat instincts and dogs hide away their pain because they love you too much to make you sad, and you're left wondering how long this has been going on and hating yourself forever for not seeing it earlier and ugh everything is terrible
posted by poffin boffin at 9:13 AM on September 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

Our cat is on the early part of decline; he could have several more years, but since we don't know how old he is, it's hard to know how many. But he's definitely stiffer than he used to be.

At the same time, this week a kitten, either a runaway or dumped, showed up miaowing on our back porch. He was incredibly thin, so we're feeding him; he's shy but not feral and will come up pretty close and definitely wants us to let him inside. We plan to take him to a shelter if no one responds to the posters with his picture we've stuck in local mailboxes, but...he's really cute, and has that heart-breaking "mew" that gets you in the feels.

But man, I think about another 12 years plus and having to do the is-it-time decision with our current cat first and then this one later, and I just don't know that I can. I've said goodbye to a lot of pets.

I have also definitely seen pets that had mental issues...illness or retardation or dementia...and I would never judge someone for putting down a pet for that reason. They are not having a good time. They don't even have the ability to know what's wrong with them, the way humans can. All they know is fear and confusion.

What's even worse is that I suspect more than a few of them were the result of either inbreeding by careless owners/breeders or early neglect. I'm pretty sure that was the problem with our gorgeous, sweet, but incredibly dim wirehair fox terrier I had in high school. Dad got him from a garage breeder, and though wirehairs are smart dogs, he could not learn anything, not even to come to his name. The one I'd had before him came from a reputable breeder and could learn almost anything you could teach him. Night and day.
posted by emjaybee at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Stories about pets going gently into that good night irk me a bit because they don’t match my experience.

In February, I said goodbye to my best friend for the past 17 years. She was a border collie-terrier mix that had grown from a wild pup to a feisty old lady. I’d say in her last two years of life she had some recurring mobility issues. Some were due to old age and some appeared after an incident where (as best as I can tell) she went into the pantry, got on her hind legs to grab a bag of chips out of the pantry, ripped the chips open and then in her feeding frenzy, got the bag stuck on her head. I came home from work to find her sprawled frog-legged in the tub with said bag on her head. I can only assume she got thirsty under the bag and knowing the tub faucet was leaking, went there and got herself stuck. Dehydrated and probably in some pain from being in that position, it took her a couple of hours to walk but she did and the next morning she was fine. Walking a bit slower but fine. My vet’s only suggestion was to keep the bathroom and pantry locked.

That’s the kind of thing she was getting into at 15/16. Over the following year, she did have a few incidents of falling and being unable to get back up again. And sometimes she would have accidents during these times so I would find her lying in her own mess. Now, I don’t know if maybe I was delusional or if other pets just have a much smoother end-of-life transition but while I knew we were nearing the end, it did not occur to me to take her off to the vet. In fact, I became rather paranoid, wondering where that magical sign of “knowing” was going to come into play.

On Thanksgiving of last year, she had a grand mal seizure. I thought it was the end and started calling around for emergency vets in the area. She started walking right after the seizure and within an hour, was running down the stairs to play in the yard and begging for leftovers. I decided to wait until that weekend to take her to the vet and he couldn’t find anything wrong with her. He drew his needle to do some blood work and my dog, who could always be counted on to at least behave at the vet and groomers, flipped out. I had never seen her act like that before. It took three of us to hold my 16 year-old dog still. And this was before she’d even had one shot. Her blood work came back fine and I was relieved because I, quite selfishly, did not want to put my dog down during Christmas.

December came and while she had slowed down quite a bit, she still seemed in good spirits. One of my fondest memories is of her stealing three gingerbread men off my plate on Christmas. She hadn’t done that in a while but I guess she figured YOLO. Then January came and something in her demeanor changed but, again, there was no look, no clear moment. She stopped eating her dog food but would eat scraps. I’d heard from other dog owners that this was common with dogs nearing the end so I figured, as long as she had an appetite, I’d feed her. Her last meal was spaghetti and Italian sausage as that’s what I happened to be having for dinner. The next day I came home and found she her laying in the closet. She was alive but couldn’t walk. I had always known that, if all else failed, I would know it’s time when she went away to die. That was a Thursday and I had to wait until Saturday morning to bring her in as my (former) job was not understanding. Just one of the reasons it’s my former job.

I had grown up around dogs so I had lost pets before so I don’t think I was in denial or making her suffer needlessly (beyond that one day which she spent sleeping). Hell, I’ve seen my dad die slowly so I really wasn’t new to the concept of death. I kept waiting for this magical moment of clarity when she would reveal to me it’s time. Instead, it seemed she kept hanging on and I had to keep asking myself what exactly does quality of life mean for a dog? Is it walking? Is it having the same appetite? Is it neither but still being present and able to enjoy attention and care? I still don’t know and stories of smooth and sanitized passings just frustrate me.

I will say though, that when I brought her back to animal shelter I got her from, they were very understanding. For that I am grateful.
posted by bgal81 at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

bgal, you've actually reminded me of one of my favorite funny stories about Zach - it happened during the vet visit where she found the tumor, in fact. She was wrapping thing up, and just needed to bring him into a back room to draw blood samples and try to collect a urine sample or something. She asked me to stay put, and brought him to the back.

Seconds after the door shut behind her - cue some increasingly loud and thoroughly pissed-off yowls from Zach. Lots of banging and thumping from the back room. More yowls. At some point someone stuck their head out the door and hollered, "can we get a couple extra techs back here?" More banging, more shouting - human and feline - and then, some silence.

A moment after things finally quieted down, my vet came back into the room, with Zach under one arm. Her hair was mussed, and her shirttail had come untucked. She put him down on the exam table and then told me, with as much dignity as she could muster, "well....he certainly is feisty."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on September 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

My wife is a (human) hospice nurse, so we had lots of conversations about Ms Betty, well in advance, and I'm glad we did. When she started to decline, we were constantly reality-checking: How is she really? It became harder and harder to remember how different she was when she was a puppy. But as she grew older she got more sluggish, eventually suffering some mysterious collapse in her health. We gave her a chance to rally, with some low-level veterinary intervention. And she rallied! We got another two weeks of her, which was joyous. Steroids are amazing. But again, we were constantly reality-checking. Is she really better? Is this really happening? Or are we wish-thinking? But she really was better, for a while. Then she started to decline again, and it somehow seemed more serious. I got The Look--I'd brought her outside to get some sun, but she was dehydrated and couldn't handle the heat, and she looked up at me with this desperate, panicked expression... So for another week we kept her hydrated and comfortable by the bed, let her sleep as much as she wanted. We gave her the chance to eat, but didn't force it on her. She stopped eating, and it was pretty gentle, a slow drifting away...we called the vet, who kindly came to our house and ended things. I recommend this: Brow beat your vet into coming to your home. It's worth the extra expense, if there is any. We buried her in the back yard. It was heartrending, but we both knew we handled it right, with Betty's interests first, and that was a comfort afterward.
posted by Zerowensboring at 9:47 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

We're going through this right now with our Dachshund Ramses. His legs are so arthritic that they don't bend any more - they stick out like a dead bug's when he lays on his side. He probably can't see too well anymore and has visible cataracts. He's lost most of his fur due to male pattern baldness. Almost all of his teeth are gone and his tongue lolls out the side. His now visible skin is covered with old-age blotches. We think he may have even had a stoke a while back and is beginning to show signs of dementia. Four times in the last two years we've prepared ourselves for it to be his end due to some illness. He spends 85% of the day laying down or sleeping.

But when he thinks it meal time he'll bark his fool head off. When he wants something, usually food or someone coming in the door, he'll come waddling over at full speed like one of those wind of robots. When he's next to you he'll sidle up and demand petting. He was never a playful dog, even when he was younger when we first got him eight years ago all he wanted to do was sit on the couch with you. We're pretty sure he belonged to someone older and was put on the streets once they passed away. He's always had bad abandonment issues because of that.

I don't think he's given The Look yet. If he ever has a major health issue we know it will be the end - he is not a candidate for surgery of any sort. If he ever shows signs of no longer being interested in the things he loves (food, being with his people) then we'll also know it is time. He has been showing more signs of distress lately due to dementia and that might also be the final straw but the line is so hard to draw. The article talks about Good Days and Bad Days but that isn't really how it works for him.

We have some friends who have let me know they think he should be put to sleep and all I can think is that they should pray that they are never faced with a similar decision with their dogs. Out vets have been super-helpful. They recognize its a hard decision between knowing when he is suffering enough that the pain needs to be ended and, in their words, "just putting down grandpa because he's too much to deal with anymore" and give their advice whenever they see him.
posted by charred husk at 10:12 AM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I felt like a monster when we had our rabbit put down. My husband said that he saw the look though, when he let her hop out of the cage and she was like, bro, why? The vet said that she would give her two shots, one that would help her relax and then the kill shot after which she would go pretty quickly. She said we could hang out with her after the first shot so we did but that was a mistake. Her eyes were all glossy and she was totally limp - she was already gone. After the second shot, she seemed to hang on for a while, like she didn't want to go as her breathing slowed and slowed until that was it. We had had her since she was a baby bunny. I didn't realize how special that was until our next pet. I don't think I want a pet rabbit again - they're crappy pets - but she was a sweetheart.

People at the vet's office said that we could have her cremated and have her ashes or have her cremated with a batch of dead pets and get random ashes. They also offered a thing where they would press her paw into ceramic and give us a plaque with her dates of birth and death on it. I got to the vet before my husband and was already sad so I got all of the things. My husband feels badly for whoever has the job of cremating the dead pets and sorting their ashes and pressing dead pets' paws into plaster. I have these things and have no idea what to do with them.
posted by kat518 at 10:18 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've had to have several cats put down (taking in cats who have feline leukemia--three different times, totally unrelated--will do that to you) but I've only gotten The Look for sure from one of them. She was the youngest one to go, at only about four years. She'd been diagnosed with lymphoma and had spent several days at the vet after having fluids drained. She'd bounced back sharply--started eating enthusiastically and wanted to be held and cuddled a lot--after that, but only for about a week. Then one evening she wanted to be held a little bit, so I did, and from there she climbed on the back of the couch and looked me right in the eyes. No question in my mind whatsoever that that look was "goodbye and thank you." The next day she hid herself away, wouldn't eat, and breathed roughly, and I took her in to the vet.

The "Three As" that Empress Callipygos mentioned were operating in full force with that one, and have been useful in other circumstances as well. I absolutely recommend those for people struggling with the decision.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:29 AM on September 5, 2014

We put away the greatest cat ever last year and my wife still can't look at a photo of him without breaking into tears. But right now she's got a two-year-old kitteh cuddled up beside her and it helps. We indeed did get the Look from the GCE and it was painful but it was the right decision. The vet never questioned our decision, was very supportive, and sent a sympathy card a couple days after.

Many years ago we had a 25 pound monster of a brown tabby named Gomer. He hated our vet with a passion but loved the vet tech beyond measure. It got so we'd board him there because the tech would spoil him rotten. The vet told us that he'd walk into the back and there would be Gomer, napping on the xray table instead of being in a kennel. Gomer would lift his head and glare at the vet. Anyway, when we had to put Gomer down, as the vet was administering the shot Gomer stopped purring and growled at the vet one last time. Our poor vet tech burst into tears and left the room.
posted by Ber at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2014 [14 favorites]

Damnit, who has been slicing the onions in here?

We have some ceramic paw prints up on the bookshelf, along with urns, pictures, and favorite toys. I dread the day I have to put my best cat ever up there...he's healthy for now but we had to put his littermate to sleep last year due to cancer...fucking cancer...

Yeah, now I gotta go for a walk and get away from these onion fumes.
posted by malocchio at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

"The most important thing to be alert for is The Look. It’s capitalized because it is a Real Thing. ... Your dog will tell you, as clearly as if they had it notarized, that they are ready to go."

Respectfully, that's nonsense. That Look that she's talking about can be seen when your dog is suffering, and is literally looking to you to see if you will do anything about it. I've seen it when my dogs are seriously ill or injured.

I doubt that dogs understand a personal death, and asserting that the dog has chosen the time of their euthanasia looks like an attempt to escape the often terrifying responsibility of being a dog owner; or more charitably, a sentimental projection by the owner of their own inner knowledge onto their pet. Maybe both.

I need both hands to count the times I've euthanized geriatric pets, and I very much understand my neighbor's mantra when she's driving home to old, fussy, all-too-mortal dogs: "Dead in the driveway, dead in the driveway ...".
posted by the Real Dan at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm a cat owner and the Three A's are new to me, but that sounds right. Cats don't really give The Look in my experience, but of the three cats I've lost, two seemed to choose their own time after long illnesses (during which time they were both getting palliative care). One put himself in the tub after sneezing blood all over the apartment and was sort of small and distant when I found him in there, the other hid under the couch, where I didn't find him until it was too late (and that was horrible). The third had likely suffered a stroke or some other catastrophic system failure and was missing two of the three A's when my fiancée found him three days before our wedding. He had collapsed onto his water bowl and was lying in a puddle of water. He couldn't stand up, and when I held him he didn't seem to recognize me. We had to choose against palliative care since his quality of life wouldn't have been much above zero if he even had any appetite left. He was gone, but I still felt terrible. But between having them put to sleep in my arms or finding them under the couch after it's too late, putting them to sleep seems like less of a failure than the other thing.

FWIW in the last case both the vet's office AND the veterinarian sent cards, separately. I felt really bad for breaking the vet's heart that day. That's got to be a hard job.
posted by fedward at 10:58 AM on September 5, 2014

Respectfully, that's nonsense. That Look that she's talking about can be seen when your dog is suffering, and is literally looking to you to see if you will do anything about it.

Respectfully, that's nonsense--i don't think anyone is advancing some woo-woo telepathy between dog and owner. If your dog is old and in poor health, then looks at you with an expression indicating suffering where there's no obvious reason for the suffering, that's the look we're talking about. If there are other symptoms, such as anorexia, confusion, or fatigue, that helps an owner interpret his dog's expressions.

I doubt that dogs understand a personal death

Agree, who said they did?

asserting that the dog has chosen the time of their euthanasia...

Who said dogs chose their time of death? Dogs don't commit suicide. Dogs and people communicate: hunger, anger, suffering, etc. Communication is an interpretive act.

...looks like an attempt to escape the often terrifying responsibility of being a dog owner.

Oh, i get it now. You're trolling! lulz.
posted by Zerowensboring at 11:07 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Winna, your princess was gorgeous!! I'm so sorry that an unfeeling vet made an agonizing decision that much worse. I had a retired racer (Trailways, "Trai" for short) that was 2 1/2 when I adopted him. He was 13 when he started going downhill, and once the slide began it went quickly. He literally screamed in pain when he rose to his feet from a laying position. The vet diagnosed arthritis in the spine over the phone because as much as Trai hated and feared going in the car, I didn't want to add to his pain/anxiety. The vet also gently mentioned that 13 years was considered "very" old for a large breed dog and suggested rather than trying any course of medication that we simply try to make Trai as comfortable as possible "in the meantime." A few months later when I was helping Trai to his feet and supporting/carrying him a few feet away to the puppy pee pad so he could relieve himself (he could no longer manage the walk outside) I had to make The Decision. Mr. Adams carried Trai to the van (Trai didn't protest or even quiver in fear....his non-reaction emphasized to me that it was Time) and took him to the vet, since I couldn't bear to do it.

I've never been able to be in the room when cats from my past had to have that final shot (Trai was the first dog I've ever owned). I feel guilty, like I should be the one cradling them in my arms, but my heart couldn't stand it. I was a blubbering mess in the waiting room as it was when I signed the paperwork. Darn, the onions in this room.....
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:20 AM on September 5, 2014

Since no one's mentioned it - even worse is when a vet tells you that euthanasia is non-negotiable in the case of a young, healthy, (sweet) dog that's demonstrated an alarming aggressive tendency. I have twice faced this, different vets in different cities (same state laws, though), reality-checked all over the place. Each of these dogs had significant, unresolvable health issues that I had earlier chosen to live with. I live with the guilt, and it's making the decision I'm weighing now even harder.
posted by mmiddle at 11:48 AM on September 5, 2014

I have these things and have no idea what to do with them.

My wife got the ceramic paw print when we put down her sweet 18yo cat, whom she'd had since kittenhood, last year. It was this little round thing in silver clay. I've had a habit for some years now of buying or making Christmas tree ornaments to memorialize family trips or other significant event. That damn paw print went up on the Christmas tree last year. It felt a little morbid to me but no way could I tell my wife no.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:08 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oddly, our dog's last months are the days we remember most fondly. We'd got her when our only child was 2, she helped us welcome two more kids into the family and about 13 years later she started laying down on her walks and eating less. Sinus cancer. A few months of deterioration, in which she needed to be carried up and down the steps when we all went to bed. A Christmas miracle, in which the kids went downstairs to open presents and our dog was, somehow, happily laying among the presents looking up at us, after months of not being able to do stairs, and never being able to do them afterwards.

And then a few months later,April 2006, she started laying down in the front yard for very long periods. This is the last picture I have of her, taken as I was pulling out of the driveway on the way to work, knowing the plan was to say goodbye when I got home.

The vet came to the house. Many will if you ask. She was laying in the exact same spot as in the pic, and the family all said goodbye; only myself and my 7-year-old son wanted to be there when it happened. It was very quick right there in the grass with us petting her. She closed her eyes and the vet gave us a little time alone before they took her away in a blanket.

I guess the point is, we were very, very lucky and wish that kind of death for every dog.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:11 PM on September 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't know that I've seen The Look per se, but I've had to make decisions more times than I want to count, and the only thing I feel guilty about in retrospect is sometimes waiting too long.

I have been lucky in that the four most recent times have been acute on chronic cases, where my pet had ongoing medical problems that were being managed well, and then had an acute episode that meant it was absolutely time, right now. Two had to be euthanized at an emergency vet because it happened off hours, and in both of those cases, we had fairly young techs push heroic measures, based on either not knowing the full history, or maybe just on youthful optimism; but I know we made the right decisions.

It doesn't make it easy, but the thing to remember is that you take on that grief and pain and that transient guilt yourself so you can give your friend the gift of a good death. One where they don't have to live in pain and confusion and can spend their last moments secure in your arms.

It's not always that clean, though, and I haven't always been able to give my companions that. Those are the ones I wish I could go back and change.

And I've known humans who have been ready to go and haven't been allowed to. It's happening to someone close to me right now, in fact. So euthanasia is a painful process for those left behind, but it's far preferable to the alternative for everyone concerned.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:31 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Doctor Alice Villalobos's Quality of Life Scale.
posted by y2karl at 12:42 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I had to bring in a vet for Abbie the Cat last year, my buddy was already cold and unresponsive. I knew he wasn't going to come back from this one; the cancer had taken all his strength and the light in his eyes had gone out. I viewed the euthanasia decision in this case as a matter of assistance: the cat always had a history of just up and leaving when he felt like it, but sometimes you had to get the door for him. Consolation it may have been, but it didn't keep me from petting him during the previous 36 hours and quietly urging him to go on his own terms, it was okay, we understood. If he'd been an outdoor cat, he probably would have left to go sleep under a tree long before.

It was the toughest decision I ever had to make, but someone had to get the door.
posted by Spatch at 12:42 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

She's my first dog and saved my life and I know one day I will have to be the one to help end hers and I get gutted with worry that I won't know when it is time and keep her here out of pure selfishness.

Yes, this. My dog saved me the day I met him, he still saves me every day, he is the love of my life, my sweet mush-face grumbly alien bulldog-Buddha world. Every day I take some time just to breathe and be near him, cherishing his presence and his slow rumbling snore, trying to burn the softness of the fur behind his ears and the scent of his paw pads into my memory. I've never loved anyone so much in my life.

So the idea that he won't be here someday -- he's 6 or 7 years old, so hopefully I won't have to worry about this for another 50 or 375,000 years -- destroys me like nothing else. I've told people that I don't know if I'll be able to survive losing him, and even that I hope I die first because I am so terrified of not being able to watch him sleeping peacefully in a sunbeam, hear his tiny little nails clicking on the hardwood floor, of not being able to start my day with a hug and a smooch from the world's best pooch. And now I am crying very hard in my cubicle at work and need to stop typing so I can go collect myself.

Peace to everyone who has lost their beloved companions. My heart is with you.
posted by divined by radio at 1:09 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our poor kitty howls and howls. She is, for her age, fairly healthy, but still - 19 years is a fairly long time for a cat, and she's a bit wobbly, her eyesight is fading, she's not eating as much. She has a few health issues (slow kidney failure, heart murmur). She still loves her attention and loves to play, but her howls make us so sad. And it's not that there is anything specific, she just ups and wanders and howls now and then. Sometimes she wants attention, sometimes she's hungry and sometimes she is constipated, but quite often it's none of those specifically. I feel like it's ennui, boredom of being old, tired of routine. But at the same time she does love life, and as far as we can tell apart from typical old age issues there is no real long term suffering. My ex/roomie/co-kitty-parent does wipe her but sometimes because she's lost some agility and ability to do so.

But we see it everyday and we know we'll probably have to make that choice some day and it terrifies us. Damnit now I wanna go give my lil monkey a hug...
posted by symbioid at 1:13 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that there isn't "the look." There's a look of suffering, which in the context of old dog and known medical conditions one can choose to interpret as the look. But the same look from your pet means completely different things if you know she has late stage heart failure at age 12 versus a suspected cold or horribly indigestion at age 4.

I doubt the Real Dan was trolling; I think he was trying to say that one can't expect the dog to know, and instead it's something as the dog owner that one needs to own.

I made the call about 8 hours later than I should have for our last dog. I still kick myself over it; I did not own it well.
posted by nobeagle at 1:13 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

For years after Theda died I would dream that the vet called and it was all a mistake and could I please come pick her up.

It was so hard waking up and remembering all over again that she was dead.
posted by winna at 1:14 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My cat has had ataxia for going on seven years now, which I controlled with prednisolone. Which was complicated with chronic renal failure and a kidney diet and subcutaneous hydration. The kidney diet is low protein and cats on it lose weight and muscle mass.

So, for strangers and infrequent visitors, it is shocking to see Grace stagger about. But she does get around, chases and catches the crickets I buy for the crepuscular ambiance in the courtyards when they creep in the apartment. And she is always at the door when I come home or leave, ready for one more scoop of KD.

As for quality of life, the good days far outweigh the bad but the bad can be so frightening. Because of the subQ, she gets frequent urinary tract infections and when she gets one, she is on death's door. We are a few lives past nine already. But she comes back.

I have never known a cat so affectionate. I will miss her so when her time comes. But it has yet to do so.

And yet I have person after person launch into a sermon about how I have to Put Her Down NOW. But they don't sleep with her. I do. She's not furniture. She's a living, loving breathing life next to me on the futon. And the way she clutches my arm with both forepaws, pushes her forehead into my biceps and bursts into a purr so loud when she drifts off into a dream, and runs in place in her sleep. I treasure every moment. I will miss her so. It may not be long now. But it is not yet time for her last breath. Not yet.
posted by y2karl at 1:15 PM on September 5, 2014 [12 favorites]

y2karl: "and bursts into a purr so loud "

posted by symbioid at 1:18 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have heard so many stories of truly horrible ways that people have ended their pets' lives (generally due to inconvenience)...

Anyone that would do this deserves to be treated as a fucking murderer.
posted by Token Meme at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My vet basically treated me like a murderer. This was not helpful on what was already the worst day of my life.

I'm sorry to hear that; I guess I've been very, very lucky in that every vet I've dealt with at that moment has been kind and respectful and supportive.

I know the look; I've seen it on two dogs.
posted by nubs at 2:08 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Never has "Everyone needs a hug" seemed more appropriate.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

>I doubt that dogs understand a personal death
Agree, who said they did?

It was strongly implied:
"Your dog will tell you, as clearly as if they had it notarized, that they are ready to go."

Unfortunately this isn't always the case, as we've seen in the statements of many pet owners here.

When I had to bring in a vet for Abbie the Cat last year

I hope you keep Abbie's blog up forever. We should remember that, although the end is sad, there's a lot of happy before it.
posted by JHarris at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

my heart will be total dog

And just when you think you won't lose it again years after saying goodbye to the first dog with whom you ever bonded, this.
posted by datawrangler at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had to make that hard decision for a cat that had belonged to my mother. He was probably the smartest cat I ever knew. He was however, 17 years old and having symptoms of that kidney thing.
Anyone who has had a very old cat knows all about it.
So one day we had a talk. And I cried. He came and licked my cheek, and gave me The Look.
He was seriously a very smart cat. He was suffering though.
I took him to a different vet. We talked about his over all health. I described the situation and said both of us were miserable.
The cat looked fine. He's been a little overweight before he got sick. That bought him time I think.

When the vet understood the weight loss, he prepared the shot and the cat didn't even need the whole needle. Not quite half.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:54 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have put two dogs down and 5 cats. I have never see something that I would call a "look". I have waited to long (uncontrollable seizures) and possible once to soon (physically healthy, mentally deranged cat). Every time it was awful. Even the time that I planned it all out, it still hurt like hell to have her die in my lap.

There is no easy way to put a loved pet to sleep.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:00 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I helped a friend find a vet who did in-home euthanasia when the time came. I remember being in awe of this woman who very clearly loved animals, but who had devoted her entire practice to ending their suffering. She chose to offer a very needed service, but in doing so, she has given up the joyous parts of being a vet. I could never do it, but the world needs more people like her.

As someone who has Huntington's disease in my immediately family (although thank god it passed me over), I am so angry that our society refuses the same service for humans. I'm so glad I don't have to plan on how to put myself down when the time came, or how I could even recognize when that time was.
posted by bibliowench at 3:07 PM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Anyone that would do this deserves to be treated as a fucking murderer.

Sad story time:

As I mention all over metafilter I have a Girl Scout troop. For a long time I was the only leader and had a ton of girls and no help, so was actively seeking co-leaders. The local council tried to find volunteers for me but for a long time just came up dry.

Finally they found someone who seemed perfect. Older woman, retired (nice to have a different perspective, someone who has enough free time), SPEAKS SPANISH (troop is in a Mexican neighborhood), volunteers with LGBT outreach programs, etc. Awesome.

So I go to lunch with her.

It becomes immediately apparent that this woman is froot loops. She tells me that the girls' parents are stupid and uneducated and I just don't understand because I'm white. She tells me that she won't be speaking Spanish with the parents because they're in America now and should learn English. She tells me that we need to start teaching the girls sex ed (they're Daisies, kindergarten and first graders) and that her sister got her period out of her nose. She told me that I can't get pregnant if I drink 3 cups of coffee every day or if I do get pregnant that I'll only make gay kids because gays love coffee so much. And so on.

At this point I'm backpedaling superfast, trying to scarf down my lunch, I run to the bathroom to text a friend to call me in 3 minutes with an emergency so I have an excuse to bolt. She wants to walk with me the five blocks until the library so that she knows I'm ok. OK fine, fine, after the library I can get rid of her. OK, I can do this.

On our walk she's asking about why I moved to this neighborhood and I mention that the extra large apartment gives me space for my dog to frolic. [And here is where it gets bad.] She told me that she used to have two dogs and a cat when her son was little but that her son (who was SIX) wouldn't take over the duties of cleaning up after the animals at home. So she had to get rid of the animals to teach him a lesson. She explained to me that she couldn't take them to the shelter to give them up, because if the shelter saw that she gave up the animals then they probably wouldn't let her adopt new ones later. So she said she took them each to a different vet and said that they were violent and bit her son so she had to put them down. And that's how she got rid of her animals.

I was so upset at this point, I couldn't even talk, I just started walking off in the opposite direction and left her there. Haven't seen her since.

As soon as I got home I sent an email to the council saying in no uncertain terms that I wanted her nowhere near my troop and that I didn't think she should be anywhere near any other troop or children period for that matter, and got an email back from them being all shocked and asking why. I shared the pets story. So much about her was alarm bells and red flags but the pet story was all I needed to convince the council to blacklist her.

This was a year ago now and every other week or so it pops up in my memory and makes me feel nauseated. What a horrible person.
posted by phunniemee at 3:11 PM on September 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

In the last few years we had to euthanize both our beloved Annie and Charlie.

Charlie was the first to go. He had lymphoma. It started as a small lump in his front lower gumline. The first biopsy was benign. The second was malignant. At the time, he was about 9 years old, and our vet discouraged chemo, based on his age and effectiveness. Charlie soldiered on for a good year. The lump in his front gumline grew and would bleed. We cleaned up behind him. At a certain point, I was working at home. I walked into the kitchen and there was a solid bloody trail in circles around the kitchen. Charlie had two large lumps in his neck where the lymphoma had spread. When he lay on the floor, he would groan and shift around. He was clearly not comfortable, and probably had other tumors we couldn't see. The vet said the lumps in his neck had metastasized. We decided to give him a royal send-off before he was too far gone. His last evening, I grilled him a steak. We let him eat two large Hershey bars. He had always wanted chocolate, which is bad for dogs. We figured what the hell. The next day we took him to the vet and had him euthanized. I came home and got drunk and cried myself to sleep.

Annie had a different departure. She was the ripe old age of 13. All of a sudden she got sick and couldn't keep food down. We took her to the vet, and he said her liver had taken a hit. He put her on steroids. She seemed to recover for a few days, but quickly got sick over Independence Day weekend 2011. By the 5th of July, she couldn't walk. I carried her into the veterinary clinic. Our vet confirmed that her liver was failing. As far as he could tell, she was just old. It was possible she had eaten something in the backyard, as she often did, and that hit her liver. We don't know. Regardless, we let her go peacefully.

Before our son was born, I commemorated our beloved pups with a piece of art for my sons room. My wife was overjoyed and tearful, but we have our sweet pups watching over him while he sleeps.

Two weeks ago, Mrs Fleebnork started texting me about a dog she wanted at a sidewalk adoption. I was reluctant. Our son is still potty training. We have toys everywhere, and baby gates at every doorway. Bills. Etc.

We brought home our sweet Penny anyway. She is wonderful with my son. Patient and sweet. I am confident that when the time comes, hopefully many years from now, I will show my son that mercy is a gift you give your dog for the unconditional love they have shown you.

My allergies are bothering my eyes, excuse me.
posted by Fleebnork at 3:25 PM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think, though, she underestimates the degree to which the vet will give you a hard sell even though you know it is right for your dog. My vet basically treated me like a murderer. This was not helpful on what was already the worst day of my life.

You need a new vet. When it was time for Gordon to go, our vet came to our house, and Gordy passed while sitting in my wife's lap in the back yard, getting pats. Even the vet was choked up a little.
posted by dersins at 3:32 PM on September 5, 2014

My surviving cat, Victoria, has been in and out of the vet's office for the past week with...something or other in her intestines. Two days in the hospital on an IV drip. The something or other has killed her appetite almost entirely, and she can't keep down what she does eat. She's fifteen, has had cancer for about a year, and is in chronic renal failure (which has been worsened by the something or other). Still chipper, still affectionate...but not eating, which has dangerous side effects for cats beyond the self-evident one. (The last time she ate comfortably was a week ago.) She goes back in tomorrow for an ultrasound to see if the something or other can be given a name, and possibly treated, but I think I'm about out of hope. It was obvious when her brother's time had come--he went from velcro cat to exhausted, antisocial misery in the space of two weeks--but thinking about euthanasia when Vicki is still interactive is really, really hard.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:40 PM on September 5, 2014

We lost our dog last winter. We are still not over it, even though we have a new dog and a new kitten and we have gone on. She was our best friend, and when you both lose your best friend on the same day...well, it's a very bad scene.

By the time we found out she was sick, she had almost no liver function left. There was no confusion - it was my call and mine alone and it was easy.

I don't even know how many miscarriages I've had. Six? Ten? I'd have ten more to bring her back, but I'm not sorry for cutting that shit short - we did it the day after we found out and it was right, because I loved her and wouldn't let her die starving and in pain.

To take this INCREDIBLY depressing post in a different direction and try to salvage some gleam of something else: our new dog, found via a kindly stranger via AskMe...happened to be born the exact day that our other dog died, a fact I only discovered looking at forms after the fact. The stranger who helped us get the new puppy had the same name, herself, as our dead dog.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:40 PM on September 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I am incredibly lucky in that the last two times I had to say goodbye to a very old, very sick, very very loved pet my vet was able to come to our home. Our beasties had their last moments in their favorite places, with favorite treats and toys, cuddling their favorite humans. It didn't make saying goodbye easier, exactly, but it was the most peaceful goodbye that we could say.
posted by AnobiumPunctatum at 5:01 PM on September 5, 2014

I had to euthanize my first cat. She was beautiful, and only about eight or nine years old, but she was unpredictably violent and a bit crazed (pissing on the living room chair while I was sitting close by, glaring at me steadily). I still tried everything I could-- Feliway and cat anti-depressants and litter box changes and having her tested for everything under the sun-- but after a year and a half (and three bites deep and severe enough to require intravenous antibiotics when they became infected, along with other minor bites and many, many scratches) I was done. Her original owners, who were going to put her down before I volunteered to take her on, refused to have her back. And so we made the trip to the vet one summer's day... she got in one last bite (the vet) and then it was done. I still wept, returning home with an empty carrier.

But because I let that one cat go, I now have two wonderful cats, and the older one would likely have never been adopted by anyone else-- already ten years old, dental issues, the beginning of kidney disease, likes to yowl when he wants something. But he's been the most loving creature and I've tried to give him the best old age possible. He's on sub-q fluids now, and various kinds of medications, but some make him feel ill and I'm reluctant to put him through too many interventions. I hope I'll be brave enough to do the necessary thing and not hold on to him too long-- but he loves to eat, he loves his bellyrubs, he loves to sit on my lap at night when I'm reading... not yet, it's not time yet. But it will be one day. I'm dreading it.
posted by jokeefe at 5:38 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's my Nigelcat, along with his big doofus of a younger "brother", Lexie. We have a friend staying and have put out the guest futon in the living room, which they of course regard as something nice we've done just for them.
posted by jokeefe at 5:45 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had a number of childhood pets that eventually succumbed to illness and were euthanized to put them out of their misery. We always made a special effort to make our last moments with them special whenever we could. The last family dogs that were "mine" were our English bulldogs Millie and Gus.

I made it home to say one last goodbye for both of them. We were given Gus as a puppy, and two years later, we rescued Millie, a 2-year old English bulldog born only weeks apart from Gus. They were best buddies for as long as they lived, always sleeping on the same blanket, Millie cleaning out Gus's ears (gross but sweet) and later nudging him around the house when his vision went. Gus died of a pancreatic tumor - he had been sick for awhile, and had a slow decline. Millie was a devoted friend and we never really knew how sick she was until he died. I'm sure that Millie's decline (much faster) was a combination of existing illness and severe grieving - she wandered around looking for her buddy for days, and then stopped eating, stopped playing, stopped cuddling. We took her to the vet, who said "severe kidney failure," and we knew that she was done. We spent one last day with her, cuddling with her on the floor (her arthritis made it impossible to hop up on the couch), feeding her favorite people-food (liverwurst, cheese, ice cream). I let her crawl all over me one last time, and then drove home to Chicago (where I spent the rest of the night locked out of my apartment... but that's another story).

Now I have pets of my own - two cats - and I can't even think about how I'm going to handle their inevitable decline and death. But where I live now, we are fortunate to have a veterinarian who has a mobile pet hospice practice, which includes palliative care AND hospice. If we're still here when that day arises, my cats are going to die in their house, comfortable, and with the people who love the crap out of them.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:53 PM on September 5, 2014

I just popped in to say thanks for posting this. We have an older dog and this has been very much on our minds since we are taking one of our dogs in on Tuesday to have a small tumor removed from his nose. He's about 10 years old, and I'm very concerned it could be cancer, which has a very poor prognosis. So far, I have seen no signs of "The Look" and he's happy, active, and eating, but we've got to be prepared to make some very difficult decisions and this article and all of your comments told me exactly what I needed to hear right now.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:25 PM on September 5, 2014

the people who love the crap out of them.


(sorry, thought the thread could use a little levity)
posted by JHarris at 6:26 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

We're on vacation at the moment, so Ticky is playing host to our super lovely catsitter who sings to him. She's great, she sends us regular text and Facebook updates because she knows we're anxious parents.
posted by arcticseal at 6:41 PM on September 5, 2014

Aided a friend with her lovely greyhound's euthenasia last week. Thank heavens the vet came to the house. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, that meant two terrible car trips we didn't have to take: the one where we would have had to carry a weak, shaking, immoble dog in (she crashed fast), and the one where we'd ride home empty.

We're going to the shelter next week!
posted by Jesse the K at 6:48 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

We lost our dog Scout about a month ago. Early in the summer we took her and our cat for a long overdue trip to the vet. The cat was fine, but scout had inoperable anal sac adenocarcinoma. We'd noticed that Scout was slowing down a lot, which we attributed to her getting old, and she would occasionally drop little bits of poop around the house for us to step in, which we attributed to her luxuriant butt fur. Both were actually caused by a tumor that I really feel guilty about not finding earlier (although in my defense she did have a really really furry butt). Our vet told us that her health would only get worse, and at some point she would have some sort of catastrophic collapse as the cancer spread.

We tried to give her the most amount of time while monitoring her for signs of distress. She only lasted about a month longer but we took her on a last hike up Pole Canyon, made sure she got plenty of her favorite treats, and we were all there with her when it was time to go. She never gave us "the Look", but we could tell that she was in pain just laying on the couch. I don't know, maybe we could have given her a few more weeks, or maybe we spared her a lingering painful death. We just did the best that we could.
posted by gamera at 7:31 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

My vet started to give me a hard time when we took our ancient cat to be euthanized (the cat we had spent years giving injections for her diabetes, until it cleared up on its own) (the cat who suddenly became a tattered coat upon a stick when she was twenty).

I explained amiably that I had sat with my mother while she died, too, after my mother decided that she didn't want to eat and drink any more because of the Parkinson's, and suddenly the vet stopped arguing.
posted by Peach at 7:48 PM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I had to stop reading this thread just one page into it.. tears and memories..
posted by DreamerFi at 7:31 AM on September 6, 2014

Yeah this is a painful thread but thanks to everyone who posted stories. This is a hard hard thing to do and having done it you will never be the same again. Loving living (dying) creatures is suffering itself, and we're fortunate that we have no choice because after it's all over, we look back and know that it has been worth it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:51 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

My cat Thor was always a complicated cat, having a tendency to get unexpectedly pointy at visitors (eyes first!) and pee on anything we left on the floor. As he aged, the pointiness got less, but when he was about 16, the peeing got a lot worse. Then he began pooping outside the litterbox, first in hideaway places, then just every which way. And he started losing huge patches of fur, like it would just peel away from his skin when you petted him. All the cultures were negative, they couldn't figure out what was going on. He still had Affection, for sure; he loved to be petted and he would purr like a Mack truck. Appetite, hard to say -- he definitely was still hungry, but he forgot where his food was? Or that eating was a thing? Or something. Anyway, he would wander the house howling until you took him to his food and pushed his face into it. And since the only food he would eat was a ridiculously expensive 100% meat cat food, I would sometimes not realize he had forgotten to eat until after the flies had found his food. Do you know how fast flies can find cat food, lay their eggs, and have those eggs hatch when it's 90 degrees outside? I shudder at the memory. Activity. . . nope. He basically just woke up to yawn.

The kicker was, we went on vacation. We had a beloved neighbor catsit for him so we wouldn't have to board him, but while we were gone, he completely lost it, pooping wise, he was pooping on the couch and the doormat and whenever. When we got back, he didn't use the litterbox for ten days. I would often find puddles of pee when my 3 year old slipped in them. There was cat poop everywhere. I called the vet and said "I am having trouble evaluating this situation and I need your help." She listened to my story and said "This is a hard decision. But I will tell you right now, euthanasia is not an unreasonable consideration. He's seventeen. He will never get better from this. You are currently seeing him at the best he will ever be; he will only get worse from here. Your quality of life matters too, and that of your children."

That night, I heard him pooping in the family room, and I went in to try and discourage him, and he looked at me and cried. I have never heard a cat make a noise like that before. I can't interpret that noise as anything other than "I don't want to be doing this, and I don't know how to stop; you have to help me." We made the call.

The vet was very kind. They reassured us over and over again that this was a good decision, that there is value in sparing an animal the kind of decrepitude that Thor had before him. When they gave him the first shot, he relaxed into my husband's arms in a way that he used to do all the time and that he hadn't done in years, and that's when we realized that he must have been in quite a bit of pain. We all sobbed -- me, the vet, my husband, the vet tech. It was awful. But it was also OK.

Those of you who follow Seanan McGuire, the author, on Tumblr may be familiar with her Birthday Unending project, a collaborative work of sorts with her fans, which posits the existence of a welcoming, unsettling birthday party outside of time and space, to whom anyone may petition for admittance. (It has many features, including a corn maze that you go into but may never come out of.) You come bearing gifts appropriate for your circumstances, and you ask the Birthday for what you need, and the Birthday gives you what it can. Anyway, about two weeks after we had Thor put down, I wrote her this:
you already let me into the Birthday once this year, but I would like to request re-admission, because I'm pretty sure my giant idiot cat Thor is there ever since we had to let him go two weeks ago and I miss him so bad I would do anything to cuddle him again. He had a special knack for finding the most dangerous, stupid place to be, so he is probably in the corn maze. I have nothing to bring, alas, but a tearful heart and the cast we had made of his paws so I can know for sure it's him.
This was her answer.
posted by KathrynT at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2014 [13 favorites]


KathrynT, that was beautiful. Thank you.
posted by arcticseal at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the last two years we've lost our dear old cat, my dad, and now a month ago our dog. We waited way too long to euthanize our cat - she was in so much pain. On the day he died, my brave dad, himself, made the decision to cease all life saving measures including the oxygen mask. After he made that decision and the nurse removed the mask, he and I shared a look. All I can say is that his face held complete love and acceptance in it. It made up for a lot. We were so different and I hadn't ever been as close to him as my siblings were.

But, of the three deaths . . . it is my wonderful, sweet, Aussie girl that I grieve the most. And, I wish like anything that she had given us The Look. I don't know if I'll ever feel like we decided to let her go at the "right" time. I miss her so much.
posted by Euphorbia at 3:29 PM on September 6, 2014

Was driving home from breakfast this morning when my wife pointed out a "Free Kittens" sign. I am weak.
posted by The Gooch at 5:06 PM on September 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I heard, swear to God, Dean Koontz on NPR years ago. And I don't know how they got on this topic but he started talking about dogs. And he said dogs are our best selves. When undamaged, they are the people we aspire every day of our lives to be--grateful for the walk and optimistic that it is coming, we hope for friends and take joy in them, expect the best and not dwell on the worst, love our people, hold the sunny day dear and lie in it, pant in the sun.

And I think this is true of the animals who share our lives, cats too -- they're the people we want to be. I wake up in the morning and let our dog out to run and bark around the yard, I pour a thin layer of milk in a big bowl for our old cat, and I turn the faucet on in the bathroom for the young one.

You know what's awesome? Sticking your paw in a stream of water and watching it fall like a ribbon over your claws. If you're small enough, sleeping in someone's armpit is just about the best place to be in February. Running around and barking at all of the creatures parked in the yard at dawn must be hilarious and satisfying, watching them all run for the trees. Yes! I am I! If it weren't for the animals who share our lives it would be easy to forget those things. How easy and how utterly stupid it is to believe that the twenty-three emails I got overnight are terrifically important. Our time is so brief. Their time is so brief. The little time in which we overlap is so brief.

In short, it's been horrifically humid and I'm going to run my paws under well water and delete a bunch of emails.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:46 PM on September 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think as long as you're the one making the decision to end your pet's life, it's always going to feel like it's either too late or too soon. If you wait until there is absolutely no other option because things have just gotten That Bad, when every moment is a bad moment and there are no good days, then you'll probably feel like you made your beloved friend suffer unnecessarily. But if you don't wait until that point, if you do it when there are still some good moments, and maybe the very occasional good day, then it's hard not to think, well maybe we should have held on just a little bit longer.

There's no easy way to say goodbye to a friend. The only time my animal friends have ever caused me any pain is when I had to let them go.

The hardest one for me was when we had to put down our adorable basset hound. He was the sweetest, most good natured dog ever. He was just all love. Like a lot of dogs of that breed, he suffered from intervertebral disk disease. We tried all of the more "conservative"treatments, including months of crate rest, but stopped short of surgery. For awhile he got better, and then it got worse, and at the end, his lower half was completely paralyzed. It was just heartbreaking. I've sometimes thought about getting another basset hound, but I don't think I ever will, because I couldn't bear going through that again.

Okay, I'm off to go hug my current fluffy friend and cry into her fur.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:07 PM on September 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

My handsome cat Charlie died last Monday. He was 17. He collapsed in his litterbox. The vet said it was a textbook case of pulmonary embolism and hugged me after I made the decision. I miss his consta-purr.

My heart is fucking broken and I've been crying for days on end. I didn't RTFA. I shouldn't even be commenting I guess but I feel like I'm among my own people here.
posted by kimberussell at 7:04 PM on September 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

Was driving home from breakfast this morning when my wife pointed out a "Free Kittens" sign. I am weak.

Those are some awesome kittens. I can tell just by looking, that pose of rapt kitten focus. You've got such fun times ahead of you!

My heart is fucking broken and I've been crying for days on end. I didn't RTFA. I shouldn't even be commenting I guess but I feel like I'm among my own people here.

Well I for one am glad you did. I can't have an animal right now, but I wish very frequently I could. Reading people's comments, I can kind of feel like I do -- even the bad times, which are important too. It's easy to love a pet if they give you nothing but joy, but knowing that there will be dark days too and forging ahead anyway, ah, that is living life.
posted by JHarris at 7:40 PM on September 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're small enough, sleeping in someone's armpit is just about the best place to be in February.

posted by y2karl at 1:10 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

This article showed up just as Rick the cat was making his way toward the exit. Y'all helped get me to the "acceptance" phase. Thanks.
posted by whuppy at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Internet hugs to you, whuppy. I just said goodbye to my dear Kitty (16 years old) this weekend. Funny that this popped back up in recent activity today.
posted by misskaz at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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