I had initially intended to answer this question with my professional opinion, but I can’t. It's such a personal question and it requires a personal answer particularly because, as a veterinarian, I too am a pet lover and owner.
One of the greatest gifts that veterinarians are granted by law is to prevent suffering. Unlike human medicine where the topic remains controversial, veterinarians can legally euthanize a pet that is in pain, suffering or has a terminal disease. I consider euthanasia an incredible act of kindness that we can offer a pet.
So, when do you really know?
Well, I personally think they tell you - they tell you with their eyes. It's not their hips that no longer support them. It's not their waning appetite. It's the look in their eyes.
Look into your pet's eyes and say, 'are you ready?' My fellow pet lovers, they will tell you.
That shiny gleam when the leash appears is gone. That wagging tail with the sight of the food bowl is gone. That look you know better than anyone else that communicates "I love this world and my life" is no longer there. Look closely. Their eyes will say, “I am ready."
I saw this look in our dog Zed's eyes one morning at 5 AM. Zed was 12 years old, a Labrador-Great Dane mix with the most incredible personality and loving spirit. Our precious boy had cancer. And, we knew he didn't have much longer but we needed him to let us know he was ready.
That morning was one of the saddest days of my life, but I took solace in knowing that letting him go was a gift to him. It was our thank you to him for all the joy that loving him brought into our family's life and Zed gave and got gobs of it.
But, it hurts to come to terms with this most difficult decision that we all, as pet owners, must face. The hurt comes from our hearts as we are losing a friend that makes us smile and laugh; and, that most importantly, makes us feel loved unconditionally. But the decision to let them go is also from our hearts. It is not a selfish decision.
To this day, when I think of Zed I am sad and I am happy.
So when you are struggling with one of the hardest decisions, just look into their eyes.
They will tell you. You will know.
Dr. Shae Martin, DVM