Thinking about the end of your pet’s life is absolutely devastating. And planning for it feels overwhelming. But there will come a time when your beloved pet’s health begins to worsen and worsen, and you know deep inside it’s time to begin planning for the end. This is emotionally, mentally, and ethically challenging for everyone involved. The conversations will be uncomfortable but needed so you can prepare yourself and your pet’s needs at this difficult time.
We thought about making an end of life checklist for Chilly after his first heart failure. To be honest, since he had so many close calls over a three-year period, we did not fully make this list until a few months before he passed away. It was an emotional roller coaster. I knew in the back of mind to watch him closely, to make sure he was happy and healthy. But each time he almost passed away it took a toll on my heart. That said, reality set in that Chilly was not going to live forever and survive each close call (kidney failure in the ER), so we put together an end-of-life list for him.
Both of us did a lot of research and talked to Chilly’s vets about this. I highly recommend everyone do the same as each pet is unique and their health and living situations are so different. Making an End-of-life checklist for your pet is essential. As a caretaker and pet parent, this will help you in making better decisions. As this is an emotionally difficult time, any tool that can help us manage the end stages of our pet’s life is invaluable.
There are many free online checklists that you can use. We found a few and created our own personalized list for Chilly. At the end of the day, you know your pet the best as you spend the most amount of time with him or her. So some online lists did not make sense in our situation. I recommend you to follow your heart and do what you feel is best for your pet’s health and living situation.
These are the criteria we used to create the list…
Chilly did a good job of “hiding” his pain but we eventually could tell when he was in pain. If he was in a lot of pain, it affected other items on the checklist. So how much pain he was in was a big indicator.
Here are signs your pet is in pain- If he or she hides in unique areas, shy away from being seen. Pacing around the room. Growling, snarling, or snapping when touched. Not interacting normally with family. Not eating. Whining. Trembling or shaking. Vomiting and Nausea. Diarrhea.
When Chilly was in pain, he would snap or snarl at us if we touched him. When he eventually stopped snapping or snarling at us, that was a huge sign that he was pretty much gone. His body was numb with no more energy to fight back.
2) Appetite & Thirst
Lack of appetite and thirst is a sign the body is shutting down. It’s important to count how many hours/days they go without eating. Vets told us 2 days is a sign and very dangerous for Chilly since he had kidney disease. Chilly was on appetite stimulants on and off the last year of his life. We gave him Entyce and it helped. But when the appetite stimulant was no longer working, that is a big sign. He did not eat or drink the last two days of his life. We did not force him to do anything he did not want to do. He tried to eat but we could tell he felt horrible. It was so sad, he had no energy left in him to eat or drink water.
Since you spend a lot of time with your pet, you will know or get a sense they are done eating and drinking. And it’s time.
Mobility issues and arthritis are very common as our pets age. It can progress over time as they have trouble walking, or fall or trip more often. They may also have issues being able to urinate/defecate and start to pant heavily as they become anxious when they realize they can move around easily as they used to.
Chilly had arthritis and had a stroke about 6 months before he passed away. The stroke greatly affected his ability to move. We had to watch him carefully. In the last few days, he lost the ability to walk on his own. It was very sad. So the progression of watching him run around on his own, play, and walk normally to not being able to move was another big sign.
I encourage everyone to track the progression of your pet’s mobility and see how fast or slow it starts to decline as they age. This is tied to their pain levels and affects their overall happiness.
4) Doing things he enjoys
Every pet has things that he or she enjoys doing that indicates they are happy. Either it’s playing with toys, playing games with you, or performing tricks for treats or other fun things. Chilly had certain stuffed animals he enjoyed chewing on, eating treats, and his favorite thing to do was kiss me over and over and over again until I said stop. So when he stopped doing those things, we knew it was getting close to the time. He kissed me until the last two days of his life when he lost all energy to do anything. It was our last sign that he was ready to go.
I recommend picking two or three things that you can measure to determine the happiness of your pet. When they stop doing or enjoying these things, it's another big sign they are in a lot of pain and near their time to go.
There are many more criteria points you can use for your pet. Those 4 points above fit Chilly’s lifestyle and health issues. Other areas that you can use are incontinence, hygiene, sleeping patterns, etc. As you have been their caretaker and closest observer of your pet’s behavior and overall wellness during his or her lifetime, you will know when they are no longer healthy or happy. Making a list helps you to logically make a decision that is one of the hardest to make. I share Chilly’s euthanasia story here with tips for anyone who will have to go through this agonizing experience.
Here is the New York Times checklist that you use for guidance. I hope you found this article helpful if you are in these phases of your beloved pet's life. This is not easy to do. Please also share with a friend who may also benefit from this information.