When is it Time to Let Go? How Do I Say Goodbye to My Beloved Dog?

How do you know when it's time to say goodbye to your pet and cope with the loss?

The love from a dog is deeply unique. Trying to explain this bond in the right words is something only a fellow pet lover would understand. 

I lost my dog Cookie to cancer and old age several years ago. For the last few weeks of her life,  she was clearly in pain, and unable to walk or even enjoy food anymore. Her quality of life was awful after 13.5 years of great health and happiness growing up with my daughters. We decided with our vet to end her suffering peacefully. While I have no doubt that we did what was best for her, it was terribly sad and difficult saying goodbye and we still miss her. We have had many friends also dealing with age and illness recently, agonizing over when is the right time to let go and then coping with the loss.

We asked expert Marybeth Haines to do a guest post we hope may help:

It’s never easy to say goodbye to your pet.

I’ve had many conversations with pet parents who have told me that they feel the only downfall of loving a pet is that their lifespan is not the same as a human’s. And each time they say this to me, I nod my head in agreement. More times than not, we will invite a pet into our lives AND also experience having to say goodbye to them as well. As with all life, death is a part of it and is inevitable. We cannot get away from that. It is one of the rules of life and one we must live by. However, because of the many gifts animals bring to us, we can learn to accept that and although it will be hard, it is worth it because of the deep and loving bond that’s been shared.

Animals are here on earth to love, be loved, and much more. One of the hardest choices we will ever have to make when nearing the final stage of their lives is to decide when the right time is to let our beloved pets go. And we’ll start asking questions such as, “how will I know?”, “will I make the right decision?” and “how will I cope?”.

Our pets depend on us to care for them and especially nearing end of life stages, the dependency increases and our lives begin new routines of care, comfort, and love.

photo of susan and Kilo the pug with marybeth and her chihuahua sitting by the water for her interview

Susan and Marybeth

At the time of this writing, and very recently, I had to say goodbye to my sweet Mr. Mooshie and I remember all the thoughts, feelings and turmoil my brain and body went through. Making the decision and saying “it is time” is extremely hard, however, when we remember that we have our beautiful animals needs in mind, it can bring us comfort knowing we are doing our best for them.

Let’s consider two key areas that are helpful in guiding us when having to make this extremely tough decision:

  1. Close connection to your medical or holistic veterinary team: Ensuring your dog’s medical needs are taken care of can be an invaluable support. Having someone you trust and who knows your animal can be a wonderful ally in helping you understand the stage of health your dog is currently at. A good veterinarian is one who is compassionate, caring and understanding not only of your dog’s needs but yours as well. Keep a daily journal of how your dog is doing and talk with your care team. By working together, you have support to make your decision and you will not be alone.
  2. Your Pet’s Quality of Life: As your canine companion ages, it’s important to identify the difference between aging-related changes and actual quality of life. As pets age, they begin to slow down and their lifestyle changes. They might spend more time sleeping vs. playing. Old age is not a disease; it is a natural transition of life. When pain and suffering become present in the body, this is where quality of life is important to monitor. 

 It’s also important to note that pets will mask pain and most times, we don’t even realize they are feeling it. In the wild, if an animal is injured or sick, they are hunted as prey. By instinct, our dogs will mask this too, making it difficult for us as pet parents to know if they are suffering or not. 

Although there are various aspects to look for when considering your pet’s quality of life, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other supports that can be put into place to make your pet more comfortable. For example, if they aren’t eating their favorite foods any longer, perhaps they are having dental pain and aren’t able to chew. This is something where an adjustment can be made to help them feel comfortable once again. That is the difference between not eating because of requiring pain relief vs. poor quality of life. And that is where working with a team of support will be helpful to you in determining what category your pet is in and the best course of action for them.

marybeth and cute nemo

In the end, when you know, you know.

I truly believe that deep down inside, we know when it’s time to say goodbye to our beloved furry ones. It’s just that our mind and emotions overcome us and we question the validity of what we are feeling. We want to make the right decision but it hurts so much. If the question has come to your mind about your dog in asking if it’s time, seeking help can guide you so you can make your final decision with strength and support. And bottom line; know that you need to be at peace in your heart when making the decision. If someone is telling you that it’s time but you clearly don’t agree with it, follow your heart as it will rarely steer you wrong, knowing that your decision is always in the best interest of your best friend and confidant, your canine family member.

These decisions are never easy and I wish there was a magic wand I could swing to make the anguish go away. I will say however that going through this can make you stronger and although it never takes the pain away, it can bring you comfort knowing that support is available. Should you ever wish an ear to listen as you are making this heartfelt decision, know that I am here. I honor your journey while standing beside you through each step of the way.

I’ve Made The Decision – Now how do I Cope?

The time has come. You have made your decision and now it’s time for your loving dog to transition from our physical plane to the rainbow bridge. Your body is going through what is similar to shock as it takes the next steps in saying goodbye. You can never be prepared for a moment like this. All you can do is the best that you can. Be gentle with yourself, be kind and know that you are doing this out of love knowing this is one of the most unselfish things you can do to honor your beloved pet.

I’m so sorry for what you are feeling right now. I know it’s hard and it’s one of the most challenging things you have ever experienced. You are not alone. As my heart connects with yours, I’d like to share with you support and guidance.

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AjMV3lBTtc

An animal’s perspective:

Having animals in my life from a very young age, I have come to learn that these pets I called friends, were actually my teachers and had many lessons to share with me. I’ve come to learn that animals and humans are two very different species in how we sense things, handle experiences and live our lives. Humans anticipate the future; animals are in “the now”. They don’t’ worry about their upcoming business meeting and for the most part, remain present. A dog, for example, can smell things we can’t. Their sniffing sense is much more advanced than a human’s ever will be. An animals instincts are beyond everything we think we know about.

When it comes to death and dying, we as humans tend to fear it. And in the strong relationships we have with our pets, we can imagine that they feel the same way as we do. If we fear death, we automatically think out pets do as well. However, in essence, do they really?

Living on a hobby farm for the first 23 years of my life, I saw many of our pets die. One thing I learned from them was that even in death, they didn’t show fear like a human would. I saw something else. I saw acceptance. I never witnessed any animal wishing they could have medication or want help from a different doctor. Those are human emotions. These teachers, our animal friends, have much to share and if we are open to being their student, we will learn a lifetime of knowledge just from the short time we have with them.

Understanding how an animal’s perspective of death is different than a human’s perspective does not make the loss we feel for our pet any easier. It’s still painful and difficult and a process we must endure. It does, however, change the framework of their death and I choose to believe that no matter how our loving pets leave this earth, they are now at peace and will be there waiting for us when it’s our time to pass. Just like the rainbow bridge, our pets roam free, play and run while waiting for us to meet up once again. And as they have no sense of time, waiting for us to re-join them will feel to them like the blink of an eye. Oh, what a wondrous reunion that will be!

Dear Friend_TPOP

If you’d like more advice on how to cope with the grief of losing your pet click here for 7 Helpful Steps to Healing from Tragic Pet Loss also written by Marybeth.

Make a Tribute to Your Pet and Treasure the Memories.

One of the suggestions is to remember your pet and do tributes. We lost our wonderful friend therapy dog Bocker Labradoodle last year after a battle with cancer. To help cope with the loss, we made this tribute video which still makes me both smile and cry.

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wnIJ33T7b4

 

About the writer:

Marybeth Haines empowers people to make choices that promote action, personal growth and healing.  She is an Author, Speaker, Consultant and Grief Specialist from Ontario, Canada.  She is a wife, sister, daughter and a mother to her furry children with tails and whiskers.  Marybeth is the author of The Power of Pets – 7 Effective Tools To Heal From Pet Loss and From Empty To Empowered – A Journey To Healing From Unexpected Pet Loss.  In 2012, she founded the “I Believe In The Power of Pets” movement.   Her focus is teaching proven step by step strategies in reinforcing the bond and connection between pets and people.  

Her books are available on Amazon.com or via her website.  For a limited time, Marybeth is giving away electronic copies of her book at: www.authormarybethhaines.com.   

Have you ever had to ask if the time was right to say goodbye or have you suffered from the loss of a pet? Tell us in the comments.

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22 Comments

  • It’s never easy… I had to do it twice in two months in 2015. They always say they’ll let us know…

  • I am going to be a total mess when it’s time to help Dexter get his wings. I know it’s going to be a decision I have to make based on his quality of life. It breaks my heart that they can’t live 60 years. <3 Thanks for this article.

  • One of the hardest decisions to make. I have a friend who is going through this right now… trying to decide if there’s something more she can do for her dog or if it’s just time to say goodbye. Only she can make that call, as she knows her dog better than anyone. It certainly isn’t easy though. Thanks for this great advice.

  • An absolutely beautiful post about a very heartbreaking subject. I am so sorry about Mr Moshie. I lost my Gibson a little over a year ago and still miss him so. Your words are so true, they give and teach us so much. And they do not fear death’s journey. My Husky pups are all seniors now, and one just turned 12 with definite signs of not being a pup any more, and I try not to dwell on what time is left and just enjoy it all. I love doing some things to memorialize them, and have done just that with my Gibson. I’m sharing this post. Thank you for such a touching article.

  • This is the hardest decision ever. It’s hard enough to separate the interest of the pet from our own personal interest. And even then it’s still so hard to figure out what it is that is in the best interest of the pet.

  • I have a friend who calls this the “balloon payment”. It never is easy and each fur kid is different.

  • When I had to let Baby go, she contracted IMHA and within 48 hours was in a coma, I was a mess, a walking disaster as she had been through the Domestic Violence with me and had held me together as such, but I knew in my heart that there was no more that we could do, my only regret was that I never had the chance to say a proper good bye to her 🙁 The staff at the clinic were amazing to me, and I think without them I would have totally lost myself, I still use the same clinic today.

    I have always said that if we as a family could have taken my father off life support and let him go with dignity, then I must do the same for my pets as I would not want them to suffer in any form, however hard it is. I actually would want the same for me.

  • Such a painful topic, but sadly inevitable. In every case, except one, the answer was clear, but in the case of my sweet Josephine, the decision was made based on quality of life. As horrific as every decision is, quality of life was the most horrendous. She I have done it sooner, should I have waited a bit longer. Those questions plagued me for a long time afterwards.

  • Someone said I should do a memorial for Dash after h was killed. It’ still on my agenda to do.

  • Well I have been through this far too many times to count in my many years and many pets. It is never ever ever easy. I miss my pets that have passed every single day. I agree however with “when you know you know” that is so true.
    I have went many directions when my pets were about to pass. From paying BIG money to prolong their lives to having them put to rest at the vet, one passed at home naturally, and so on.
    All ways suck.
    What I will never do again though is take a pet for an hour drive to a specialist to see if they can get one more week, or month of life. I am so upset that I did that with our last cat that passed. I feel the stress I put him through in his dying days was worse than having just had him put down.
    I did it because I needed him to hang on longer, not because he needed to.

  • Letting go of Sweet Praline was one of the hardest things I had to do, but I know it was the best thing to do for her.

  • Ugh, always the hardest decision to make. But in the end, it is a kindness to help your dogs go peacefully and painlessly.

  • Mom can’t stand to think that a pet is suffering at all, she sees many friends waiting too long to make the decision to end their life while she always feels she does it too soon. It’s just horrible to have to be responsible for something like that. Love Dolly

  • This is a very honest post. I lost my “heart dog” when I was in my early twenties. She had been w/ us for 17 years, so I essentially grew up with her. I don’t even remember not having her in our lives as a child. The loss was so devastating for me, it was unbearable pain. I didn’t get another dog until I was in my 40’s, which is sad because I know I missed out on a lot more doggie love. I did have cats though. It’s extremely painful to lose a beloved pet but the love we shared with them is still so worth every tear. I choose to believe I’ll see my Ginny at the Rainbow Bridge.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  • That’s how it is, huh! I plan to enjoy until then..off to bark!

  • It is always so hard to say goodbye to a loved one. I’ve had to make that decision twice in my life, and I’ve been there for my sisters and mom when it was time for their pets to cross the rainbow bridge.

  • What an important post. It’s not something we humans want to think about, but it’s our responsibility as pet parents to understand what is best for the animals we have agreed to care for. Thank you for sharing this. I’m sure it will be a useful resource for many.

  • That’s so interesting to think about the difference between humans reaction to death (fear) and our pets acceptance of it.

    I also think sometimes when a pet is in decline that we don’t always see their discomfort because we are blinded by love. I now look back at pictures of our first dog in his final days and realize just how sick he looked – I didn’t see it at the time because I just loved him so much.