What 25 Years as a Vet Have Taught Me About the Right Time to Say Goodbye

Old Cat

In a recent article, I chronicled what a day in the clinic life of a veterinary oncologist is like, and I believe that some of my readers were surprised by some of the positive pet stories that I told. Each of those anecdotes was true, and my patients fill my working hours with positive energy and hope.

The reality is that the difficult conversations don’t happen in the clinic — they come late in the day, over the telephone, or in the middle of the night, via an anguished email.

After more than 25 years spent practicing veterinary medicine, these conversations have not become easier for me, although I have gained some wisdom surrounding the right time to have them.

Wishing for a Peaceful Passing

Pet owners often hope that their pet will pass quietly and without incident at home, while asleep in their favorite basket or bed, so the family can avoid the wrenching but sometimes necessary decision to euthanize.

But fate rarely provides this solution.

Dog and cat owners alike do not take the decision to euthanize lightly, hence the anguished emails in the middle of the night. No one wishes to make the decision a minute sooner than is necessary, nor a second later than is appropriate.

Yet, even after years of listening to these moving voicemail messages and reading the desperate emails, the perfect moment for euthanasia often eludes me.

Most of the time, I just listen to the family’s concerns, and they themselves realize when the time is right.


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