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When to say goodbye

"You were my favourite hello, and my hardest goodbye"

This quote is so apt when it comes to losing a pet. My first and definitely hardest goodbye was to our Shepherd Dakota. He was mine and my husband's first dog together and he made our little family complete. He was two when he entered our lives and 14 when he left it. The years passed so fast, and he went from a strong, active boy to a white faced senior in the blink of an eye. I adored him and he adored me. The term mama's boy was made for him. He protected us through the mountains of BC on numerous camping trips and hikes, and crossed the country with us when we moved back to Ontario. He was always there...and then he wasn't. The decision to let him go was so painful, but it had to be done. His quality of life had faded to such a degree that it was selfish to keep him with us.

It is without a doubt one of the hardest decisions we have to face...and make. However, when you are at the crossroads, there are some guidelines to help. The Quality of Life scale assists pet owners with assessing a declining pet's overall health.

This list, called "HHHHHMM", stands for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and more good days than bad days. The object is to rate each of these categories from one to ten. A score above five on most of these issues is acceptable in maintaining an end-of-life program. However, each pet's situation needs individualization and a kind, supportive approach.


Adequate pain control is first and foremost on the scale. This includes the pet's ability to breathe properly. Most people do not realize that not being able to breathe is ranked at the top of the pain scale.


If a pet is not receiving adequate nutrition willingly, by hand, then consider placing a feeding tube. Malnutrition develops quickly in sick animals. Owners can use a blender or liquid diet to help maintain proper nutrition and caloric intake.


Subcutaneous fluids are a wonderful way to supplement the fluid intake of ailing pets. It may take a few sessions for a pet owner to get the hang of this procedure.


Can the pet be brushed and cleaned? Is the coat matted? Is the pet situated properly so that it won't have to lie in its own waste after eliminations?


Is the pet able to experience any joy or mental stimulation? It is easy to see that our pets communicate with their eyes. Is the ailing pet willing to interact with the family and be responsive to things going on around them?


Is the pet able to move around enough on its own or with help in order to satisfy its desires? Does the pet feel like going out for a walk? Is the pet showing central nervous system problems, seizures or stumbling? Can the pet be taken outdoors or helped into the litter box to eliminate with assistance?


Ask yourself honestly if there are more good days than bad days. When there are too many bad days in a row, or if the pet seems to be "turned off to life", quality of life is compromised.

As you can see there are many considerations to look at when making the decision. When it was Dakota's time there were three that were the most pressing for us. Happiness, mobility and more good days than bad. Pain was a part of his life from the moment he woke up until he went to sleep. We kept him as comfortable as possible but the day came when I just knew he'd had enough. And so we let him go.

Even with the help of the guideline, it's arguably impossible to pick the "perfect" time because it doesn't exist. There are times when you just know. When the bond between you speaks more loudly than anything. That's when you really have to listen.

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