When Is It Time? Things to Consider When Making End-Of-Life Decisions For Your Pet
Euthanasia is not an easy topic. Each of us has had discussions with clients, with family members and with ourselves about the right time to say good bye to a pet. There is no simple formula. There are rarely any black and white answers. Dr. Elliott wrote the following article, and I think it can provide guidance during those difficult days.
By Lori Elliott
The price we pay for loving a wonderful creature with a life span far shorter than ours is the hurt of saying goody-bye. The end of our pet’s life comes more often with our gentle help, than it comes naturally. Natural death can be slow and painful to the pet and the family standing by. However, advances in veterinary medicine allow control of a pet’s pain and anxiety while assisting in gentle passage from this life. This is referred to as euthanasia.
There are two major categories of conditions that lead to consideration of euthanasia: chronic or long standing and progressive disorders and acute illness in which decisions must be made quickly. Examples of chronic conditions are progressive heart disease, kidney insufficiency, geriatric debilitation, and many forms of slowly progressive cancer. Examples of acute diseases include pathological fractures of limbs affected by bone cancer, ruptured internal tumors and blood clots or strokes.
With acute illnesses, often the pet is making the decision rapidly before our eyes. To alleviate pain or suffering, the decision needs to be made immediately. If we cannot successfully treat the illness now, we owe it to our pet to let them go peacefully. It is really difficult to say good-bye!
For chronic illnesses, the difficulty is the timing of euthanasia. Should euthanasia be planned this week, next week or next month? Usually, there is no right or wrong answer. However, in my personal and professional experience, we more often wait too long and later regret the delay. It is really difficult to say good-bye!
For pets with chronic illnesses, it is important to look at their quality of life. Dogs and cats live for today–they do not have the ability to think of the past or the future. I sometimes have families list all of their pet’s favorite things: eating, playing fetch, going for walks, following a family member around, grooming or keeping good hygiene. How many of these things are still enjoyable to the pet?
Some people need a more analytical process to know when it is time. For these folks, I recommend having two jars side by side in a prominent location. One jar is labeled “good,” and the other “bad.” Each day, the family assesses the quality of the pet’s present status and drops a coin, marble or candy into the appropriate jar. When the “bad’ jar begins to surpass the “good” jar in contents, it makes it very clear that the balance of quality of life has shifted, and it is time to think of allowing a peaceful passage.
When faced with decisions for a pet with a chronic or terminal acute illness, it is essential to communicate with your veterinarian. He or she will help guide you while helping to control your pet’s discomfort. Your vet will discuss the actual process of euthanasia, answer your questions and discuss means of handling your pet’s remains.
The most difficult decision we make regarding our pets is when to say good-bye. I frequently tell clients (and I have frequently told myself each time I personally face this loss) not to let the end of their pet’s life – this decision- be larger than the life shared. As sad as the last day together seems, it is merely one day of the hundreds or thousands of days you shared with your pet. Through the sadness and tears, celebrate all of the wonderful time shared and the true blessing your pet was to you!