An inevitable part of owning a pet, is coming to accept their relatively short lifespan. At some point, whether because of illness, trauma, or advanced age, most of us find ourselves grappling with the same question: How do we know when it’s time to let them go?
In truth, there is no precise, perfect time. The answer is as complicated and personal as the relationship between pet, and owner. Even when we think we’re prepared to make that decision, our emotions cause us to question how we can possibly “do something like that” to the pet we love. Often, we hope for them to pass naturally without our intervention.
Sadly, that rarely happens, and we’re left looking for answers. If we begin by accepting cat or dog euthanasia as something we can do “for” our pet, and not “to” our pet, we come to realize that this decision is rooted in devotion and compassion. By examining the totality of our pet’s quality of life, we often find ourselves faced with the realization that there are far more “bad days” than “good,” and there are no longer viable treatment options to reverse that reality.
Assessing quality of life can be obvious when an animal is suffering constant pain, when they’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness for which treatment is ineffective, or when unpredictable, uncontrollable aggression makes them a danger to humans, and other animals, and all efforts at professional behavioral intervention have failed.
Subtle changes from chronic illness or advanced age are often more difficult to assess, but there are questions designed to provide help:
– What is my pet’s activity level? Does he still enjoy going for walks and playing? Does he engage with the family as he once did, or has he become withdrawn, depressed and lethargic?
– Does he eat willingly, or does he need to be force fed? Has chronic diarrhea or vomiting become a problem?
– Is incontinence an issue?
– Is breathing labored?
– Is there chronic anxiety and/or fearfulness?
– Is he aware of his surroundings, is there constant pacing with an inability to relax and rest? Does he sleep at night? Does he seem no longer familiar with his life?
– Is he experiencing more and more frequent trips to the Veterinary Hospital with minimal if any benefit?
– Does he struggle to stand and walk?
– Has he lost interest in the things that he once enjoyed?
Diminished quality of life can be rapid, or it can be so slow as to feel normal. Either way, significant decline without any hope for recovery or improvement, as well as the anticipation of continued decline, requires consideration. Honest answers to these questions may give owners Information they need, but they are still faced with a daunting decision, often accompanied by tremendous doubt and guilt. Am I over reacting? What if I do this too soon? Did I wait too long hoping I wouldn’t have to make this decision? The responsibility as well as the pain rest heavily on the decision maker.
While the ultimate decision to euthanize is yours, it helps to seek guidance and support from your veterinarian. Veterinarians are acutely aware of the difference between treatment to extend and preserve an animal’s life, and interventions that merely prolong suffering. The option to euthanize is not something they enter into lightly, but they fully understand that an owner seeking guidance, or requesting euthanasia, is facing what is probably the most difficult decision they have ever made regarding their pet. When a pet is suffering, or in tremendous pain, the decision becomes more urgent. Faced with a less urgent, but increasingly overt decline, the Veterinarian can provide the support and insight that will allow the owner and their family to choose the appropriate time to say goodbye, whether it be days or weeks later. Your Veterinarian is dedicated to preserving and protecting the bond between you and your pet, but that dedication is never more appreciated, than when they bring a peaceful, dignified end to the life of the wonderful creature who has brought you so much joy and love. Euthanizing your pet is a personal, painful journey…you do not need to undertake it alone. Give us a call at (732) 671-3110.