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When a Pet Rallies

Dawn is breaking on the day you’ve been dreading since you learned of your dog’s illness. You’ve scheduled a visit from one of Forever Loved’s vets so that you can say goodbye to your sweet pup peacefully at home. Part of you feels relief knowing that your best furry friend won’t have to suffer anymore, but your heart is still breaking at the thought of letting him go.

Suddenly, your pup trots enthusiastically through your bedroom door, wagging his tail and asking for breakfast like he has pretty much every day for the last 12 years. He is bright, alert, and seems happy – a far cry from the precipitous decline you’ve been watching over the past few days.

He eats his breakfast willingly, the first real meal he’s had in over a week, and then asks to go outside. Another surprise, since he’s been “messing” in the house routinely of late, but he does his business outdoors like he used to, then grabs a ball and seems to want you to throw it for him.

As you throw the ball, you feel hopeful and confused all at once. Your vet told you that this disease is terminal and your dog has been showing all the signs of being close to death, but here he is acting almost normal again. Could it be your vet was wrong? Has your pup miraculously recovered from a terminal illness? And more practically, should you cancel your euthanasia appointment?

While this is an extreme example, this kind of rally is not uncommon in the animal world. In human medicine, they refer to this transient improvement as “terminal lucidity,” and it can last anywhere from a few moments to a few days. The cause of these rallies is unknown, but it is thought that they allow people to make sure their affairs are in order and/or say their final goodbyes to family and friends.

Similarly, many – but not all – pets experience this brief return to (some degree of) normalcy just before they pass. Perhaps they are saying their final goodbyes as well.

As you can imagine, family members who have planned to euthanize a pet on a certain day only to watch that pet seemingly return to normal in the hours leading up to the appointment can struggle with knowing what to do. The first reaction is usually to cancel the visit; after all, the animal is doing so well that it would be wrong to say goodbye today, right?

Well, if your pet has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or if she is older and has been in decline for several months or years, then the overwhelming odds are that this is indeed a terminal rally and she is likely to take a final turn for the worse in the coming hours or days. If that is the case, then it can be a real gift to let her go on this last good day, before the inevitable decline leading to death.

If the pet is younger or the illness is recent and/or undiagnosed, then it may be worthwhile to postpone the euthanasia visit in favour of a visit to your regular vet for diagnostics and perhaps definitive treatment for what ails her.

Either way, this is a confusing and emotionally taxing moment for families who often struggled to make the euthanasia appointment in the first place. Understandably, almost everyone second-guesses their decision in these situations and they will often reach out to us to either cancel the visit or ask for guidance. Nobody wants to let their pet go too soon.

The truth is that unless your pet falls into the second category of undiagnosed, acutely ill, and possibly younger animals, cancelling the visit in favour of awaiting more obvious signs of impending death often leads to emergency trips to the veterinarian or sudden, sometimes difficult unassisted deaths at home. We often hear from clients in these cases that they wish they’d kept their scheduled appointments, but of course we know how hard it is to make that call when your pet seems to be doing so well.

Hopefully knowing what to watch for will help you recognize a rally for what it is – your pet’s gift to you of a final goodbye and the chance to have their last day be a good one.

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