Is it time for pet euthanasia? At the end of our pets’ lives, we must determine their quality of life to make treatment, hospice, and euthanasia decisions. We are the stewards of our pet’s care. They are entrusted to us and the average pet owner takes this job very seriously.
No one knows your pet better than you, and your desire to consider this very tough decision shows that you have the best of intentions. Frankly, your pet is blessed to have you by their side and making the ultimate decision that they cannot make. You have not given up on your pet —actually, you have loved them enough to do something.
Our part in this process is to give you a prognosis and be completely honest with you on what the future looks like for your pet. Modern advances have made it possible for humans and pets to live longer, but there is still an endpoint for all of us. As your veterinary care team, we cannot recommend pet +euthanasia, but only guide you in understanding the status of your pet so that you can make that choice.
What may be going on with your pet at this stage of life?
- The animal may have a disease or debilitation that we can no longer treat with favorable results. Medications may be insufficient to relieve the condition, nutrients may be unavailable to the animal for healing, and the pet’s body may no longer be helping us.
- The animal may have a disease or debilitation that they can no longer survive. Many conditions are progressive and unrelenting, unfortunately.
- There may simply just be so must confusion for the animal that it is in distress. Since we cannot explain to our pets what is happening to them—herein is one of our biggest struggles, the inability to speak their language and convey a needed message. They may accept their new health status with ease or they may be very distressed or confused by it. You will have to be the judge of this because you know them best.
- The current treatment regimen is not improving the quality of life for the pet.
What about the term quality of life?
Quality of life is a term that can seem overused, but it is exactly the way that we need to view our pet’s life. Animals, in general, live in the moment. They rarely live in the past or think about the future. So living for today makes today very important for them. And if today is no longer fun, they may not want to be here anymore. They do not measure their life in quantity, but quality.
Quality of life is about ascribing a value to their day. Do they still have joy? Five minutes of a tail wag does not equate to a joyful day. Seriously consider what portions of the day are good for them.
You know your pet well, but you don’t speak the same language. What do you think that they might want to tell you if they could?
So what really are my options right now?
Continue to treat the pet as best as possible to suppress the ill effects of the condition, but be on a constant watch for signs of suffering as your pet faces the home stretch. Your ability to observe and assess is paramount.
What are you watching for?
- Has your pet withdrawn from the things he loves: food, games, interaction with family, walks, playing with the other pets, some other daily ritual?
- Has your pet withdrawn from the things he hates: barking at the mailman, fear of storms, etc.? Failure to rise and respond as he once did may indicate that it is just not worth the effort.
- Has the appearance of your pet’s eyes changed, where he seems to no longer be looking out but is drawn inward?
- Has your pet gone 24 hours without drinking?
- Has your pet gone 4 days without eating?
- Does your pet appear worn out?
- Are there changes in bodily functions (urinating, defecating, etc.) that are causing you or your pet distress or confusion?
- Does your pet seem confused in general?
- Is your pet falling or exhibiting strong pain? Does your pet seem unable to deal with the pain?
- Has your pet shown a change in breathing or panting patterns? Faster deeper respirations may signify pain in a very large way. Honestly, some people can take far more pain than they allow their pets to experience. This is common and very understandable.
- Does your pet seem to have more bad days than good days?
The term hospice derives not from the word hospital as much as it does from the word hospitable, thus creating an environment that the patient would find hospitable for this journey home.
Hospice care involves the treating of symptoms not the disease. The disease process has been established as incurable and we find ourselves in a position of dealing with the here and now only. The future is of no concern, we are dealing with the patient’s comfort needs today.
Enter into hospice care, knowing that the pet can no longer survive and a cure is not possible, but you may provide loving comfort and care at home as you take this journey together.
What do you need to consider?
- Do you have enough time, energy, family support, and financial resources to care for your pet at home?
- Are you emotionally prepared for the intensity of becoming your pet’s caregiver?
Remember that hospice care involves loving interaction far more than the administration of therapy—don’t let the details of the care distract you from precious moments with them. This is your time with your pet in your home setting.
Our philosophy of care at this time involves:
- Providing a high-quality, high-protein diet to meet the body’s needs to sustain life.
- Providing absolutely adequate pain control. Pain serves no purpose and robs an animal of joy and quality of life. In today’s world of pain medications, it is both right and ethical to relieve pain.
- Controlling nausea.
- Giving immune support as the animal’s body struggles to defend itself against other diseases.
- Providing liver support. The liver serves as the clearinghouse for the body and will always be struggling to serve its capacity in a critically ill animal.
- Providing anti-oxidant therapy to lessen the inflammatory processes in the body.
Choose to say good-bye now. Death is not a medical failure, but a normal and inevitable conclusion to life. Death can be experienced with dignity and compassion.
If life is miserable for your pet now, is death really so bad?
Is your pet clinging to life for your sake, waiting for your approval? Animals have an incredibly strong sense of their inner strength and dignity, and for that reason, we believe they have an incredible sense of their destiny.
Choosing to end your pet’s suffering is one of the most loving choices you can ever make. We are blessed in veterinary medicine to know that our loved ones do NOT have to suffer but can be relieved of a prolonged and difficult process. Euthanasia actually means “good death.”
All of the emotions that you are feeling are normal. So why does the right decision seem wrong?
Pet euthanasia is one of the hardest decisions that you will ever make, and you must be able to live with the decision once it is made. Why is it so hard? Because not only are you preparing to live on without your pet, but you are putting tremendous pressure on yourself about the decision.
Work hard to consider all of the options so that your decision gives you comfort, peace, and no guilt. Sadness, but no guilt. Lay the guilt aside and make an informed decision.
If finances may play into your decision, remember that your financial situation is NOT a measure of your love for your pet.
You have a difficult task and we are here to help. In all, we encourage you to abide by 3 rules:
- Don’t let them hurt.
- Don’t let them suffer.
- Don’t let them starve.