Pets can bring so much joy, love and laughter into our lives. They are an integral part of our family. They are our companions, our protectors, our “babies.” Unfortunately their lives extend for a fraction of our own, which can often leave us in a position of watching our beloved furry family members suffering through elderly years and sometimes illnesses. How do we decide when their discomfort is too much for them, and the time is right for them to cross? How can we best honor their precious journey as they transition over? These are questions that have been coming up a lot lately with my clients. A meaningful and compassionate discussion about this difficult subject, can be very helpful.

When there is a choice, the question of when to die is very complex. Of course we don’t want our beloveds to leave, because we will miss them with all of our hearts. But there’s another important aspect, because no matter how dire the circumstances most people can’t fathom choosing euthanasia. Many of us worry that it’s an immorality and a betrayal.

When I was faced with this same decision my veterinarian told me that there is no right or wrong time. “It’s very personal,” he said, “so I tell my clients this. ‘Watch for their loss of dignity. Once your pet begins to have a lot of potty “accidents,” or can no longer go to the bathroom on their own or suffers from the side effects of pain medicine or is traumatized by numerous life saving measures, it’s a good indicator the time has come for them to transition. Animals are like most humans. They prefer quality of life over quantity.’”

As painful as it is to let our pets go, it is our responsibility to make these difficult decisions for them. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling with when to let your dear pet go:

How is their quality of life? While elder or ill pets will have both good and bad days, it’s important to get honest with yourself about how much pleasure they’re still deriving from life. Ask yourself what their favorite things have been, and if they’re still able to enjoy them. Do they still have an appetite and ability to eat, or do simple treats no longer interest them? Do they still get up to greet you, or are mobility issues causing pain and frustration for your pet?

Are they ill? Veterinary options have expanded over the years, increasing medical options for diseases like cancer, and heart conditions common in older pets. While it’s noble to make every effort to save your beloved pet, it’s important to be honest with yourself about whether it’s being done for them or yourself. Does the medical care put a burden on your pet, or is it helping them live a better life?

What has your vet suggested? Having a frank discussion with your veterinarian is an important gauge to help you make your decision. Make sure you have all the information you need, and a plan you’re comfortable with. Discuss what euthanizing will require. Some vets offer in-home euthanization services so your pet doesn’t have to make an uncomfortable journey to the vet’s office, and can cross over comfortably in their own home.

Ask them. You know your pet better than anyone, and asking your pet energetically if they want to go can be confirming. It’s in their energy, and probably in their eyes. If they’re suffering more often than not their will to live is diminished. Animals do not fear death. They understand it better than most humans. But there are times when our pets stay here longer than their body intended. They often hold on sacrificing their comfort for ours, because they don’t want us to fall apart when they leave. It can be a gift to let them go, especially if you do it with gratitude and good intention.

Making the decision to let your furry family members go is never easy. Take care of yourself, and your own sadness by creating a ceremony that feels right to you. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Offer gratitude for all the ways your pet enriched your life. Or depending on the circumstances, you could take your pet to their favorite place to play. My personal preference is to sit with my beloved in a comfortable, quiet space for as long as possible. No words are necessary. When we offer our time, calm energy and full presence it creates a soothing and unforgettable intimacy. By honoring our pet’s needs in their final days, we are giving back the love they shared with us over the years.