5 Ways to Know It’s Time

Cynthia from You Signed Up for What?, Courtney from Eat Pray Run DC, and Mar from Mar on the Run have 5 best race signs as this week’s Friday Five linkup. Except my short term memory isn’t quite what it ought to be and I usually don’t remember the signs, even if they do sometimes help during the race. Love to read what your favorites are, though, and hope it’s okay that this post has nothing to do with running.

And now we’re going to turn to the dark side. This post has nothing at all to do with running, and everything to do with what’s on my mind right now. It’s been playing in my mind almost constantly the last couple of weeks: how do you know when it’s time to let your beloved furkid go?

For those who don’t know, Chester, one of our dogs, is in heart failure. And he’s nearing the end. My husband was away this past week and we knew there was a fifty’fifty chance Chester wouldn’t be here when he got back. Thankfully he’s still here, and doing relatively well considering his condition, but it was a very long week and the outcome was uncertain.

It’s not the first time — or the last, I’m quite sure, considering I have another senior dog and a geriatric cat — that I’ve gone through this process. So I wanted to share my thoughts on how you make that decision. I often say it’s the hardest decision we have to make for them; and the most loving.

They’ll give you the “look”
People say this all the time. I have many dear friends who say this. Quite frankly, I’ve never gotten the “look”. Animals are such fighters. And they often rally right before the end, too. I remember a previous cat, who basically hadn’t eaten in a few days, coming home after we’d gone to the vet to insert a catheter (so she could be put to sleep peacefully at home) suddenly demanding food. It didn’t last long and we kept the appointment.

There are definitely times Chester looks at me and looks very tired. And then he’s running around, chasing birds and squirrels, wagging his tail, and begging for food.

Chester's squeaky toy
Chester’s squeaky toy

They stop doing the things they love
Chester, for instance, is still barking at the UPS man. He still chases his squeaky toy. He still enjoys his walks, most days, although there have been a number of days when he has been too tired to walk or the trip to the park this week where I carried him for almost the entire walk. He still has a great appetite. He goes up and down the stairs on his own most days, although on a bad day I have carried him up and down those stairs. He’s still doing his business outside, except for just a very small number of accidents (two so far). He sleeps pressed against me at night, although no longer underneath the covers.

They stop eating
It seems like it should be such a clear signal, and for Chester, I’ve told my husband if he stops eating I’ll know it’s time. This dog will eat almost anything. He once ate rat poison and lived to tell the tale. Even on his sickest days, he has a great appetite and hangs around the dinner table hoping for scraps (despite the fact we don’t feed him from the table). So far.

Doggie Kisses
Doggie Kisses

They have more bad days than good days
Yes, Chester does have his bad days. Days when he’s too tired to go for a walk. Days when he can barely breathe. And for the first time this week, a day where he collapsed (although he went on his afternoon walk just find and chased a bird in the backyard that night).

So far, the good days are still outweighing the bad. But most likely for him, it will change very quickly. The cardiologist has said we’re about out of treatment options.

Soaking up the sun
Soaking up the sun

They’re in pain
Chester isn’t in pain. Which is not to say he always feels well — he moans and groans sometimes, and is clearly uncomfortable sometimes. Until you offer him some food and then he’s up and wagging his tail so quickly it’ll make your head spin — even on his worst days, so far, he’s always up for a snack.

This dog who was always glued to my lap no longer lays on me; he gets up and curls up with me on the couch occasionally, but rarely for more than a minute. Unless food is involved; then he’s your best buddy. Do you see a theme there?

I’m not sharing this to depress you or make you sad. I’m sharing this in the hopes that maybe somebody out there is struggling with this too, and this information might help ease their decision.

 Have your animals given you the “look”?

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22 thoughts on “5 Ways to Know It’s Time

  1. It’s so hard, and you can’t always check all the boxes to know, but hopefully your brain convinces you that it was the right thing even when your heart wishes otherwise. For our beagle, her appetite dropped off (even when she was on the steroids) and stopped doing things.

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  2. Yes, I know “the look” far too well. All your signs are clear earmarks to knowing when it’s time. You know in your heart when enough of the markers tell you, but it’s “the look” that is the most telling. And the most poignant.
    When I let each of my girls go, I put my head on the table right next to theirs, looked them in the eyes while I pet them, and watched them go peacefully. It was extremely difficult, yes, but seeing look of peace they ultimately had made it worth the pain.
    Peace be with you, too, Judy, when that moment comes. My heart is with you.

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    1. Connie, remember that strength this weekend. It takes a lot of strength to be there – I always am, because I want their last memory to be my love. We’ve discussed it already & my husband does not want to be there. I was talking with friends & none of them could be there either. So you are far stronger than you realize – certainly stronger than 13.1!

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  3. Awwwww Chester, he is so precious. I have struggled with it in the past, and eventually we had a very bad night and I just had to take my Dinky first thing in the morning. Usually there will be a point where you can tell the your animal is struggling, but it is so hard…
    Hugs Judy, there is no easy to way to get through it, just day by day.
    Chester sure has lots and lots of love! He would tell you thank you if he could 🙂

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  4. I have lost 4 cats but have had a different experience than you. The first got hit by a car. The second just disappeared. The 3rd looked like he was having breathing problems and when we took him to the vet, they said it was lung cancer. We could have had his lungs drained and taken him home but we knew that wouldn’t change the prognosis so we chose to put him to sleep. And yes, I held him and was there while they did it. The 4th was healthy until in the middle of the night, he started crying out in pain. My hubby took him to the 24 hr vet and I expected him to bring him him home. I was shocked when they said he was going through heart failure and the pain was a blood clot in his leg. I didn’t get to say my last good-by and was upset that my hubby didn’t call me. But everyone is different. You have to do what you feel is right.

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    1. I’ve always been there, so that would be terrible not to be. I’m sure your husband just wasn’t thinking clearly.

      It’s not only me, which makes it doubly hard. My husband is much more a dog person than a cat person.

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  5. Judy this post breaks my heart. It’s just so hard, but inevitable. All we can do is make them comfortable and know when the time has come. My Remy has been on watch for awhile now. He’s a bag of bones but he eats well. And yesterday he was galloping. Love and hugs to you and Chester.

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  6. I haven’t had to go through this yet. My dwarf rabbit, Tosca, was fine before we left for Thanksgiving at my sisters and was gone when we got home. Luckily our cats our still young and healthy. We have found a few of our feral buddies. So sad. My love and hugs to you.

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  7. Judy, I think you’ll just know when it is time. My heart goes out to you as a fellow dog mama. One of my dogs has eyes that will look straight into your soul, I swear. I would want to be with either of mine to know they had peace in the end. I’m thinking about you! XOXO

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  8. I got teary eyed just reading this. No one ever wants to do that. Just when you think it’s time they will do something that surprises you. But knowing that they are not gonna get any better and they are not truely living their life like they once were. I was always told pets hang on for you. Knowing when to let go is the hardest part.

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  9. Oh Judy, I just want to reach out and give you a hug.

    Ya know, I actually googled this same topic earlier this summer. In the end my husband made the ultimate decision because it had been his dog before we met. He wanted my input on it but I just couldn’t. It’s such a sad time. But like you said, when they stop doing the things they love, they don’t have much of a life to enjoy. Enjoy every minute you have left with your sweet pal!

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    1. Thank you, Meranda. We are enjoying him when he isn’t annoying us. 🙂

      I’ve taken to walking them twice a day because Chester is on so many diuretics & needs to go so often. Except since it’s been warm, he gets very draggy on the afternoon walk.

      And yesterday I just didn’t have the time. I let him out – 3 times – when I knew he had to go. And he ran out, turned to look at me, then ran back in. He made it pretty clear he wanted his walk.

      I was just about to skip washing my hair to take them for a walk when my husband came home, let him out, and yup, THEN he pee’d.

      At least I did get to wash my hair!

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