Here’s a hard topic that at some point, all caring pet owners have to face, when is it time to make that quality of life decision for your ailing companion animal and how should you go about it?
Humane euthanasia may be one of the hardest decisions you have to make. It is hard to make such a big choice for an individual that cannot verbalize their wishes. It often is a very personal decision but there are things you can qualitatively measure to help you decide if your animal companion is suffering.
Your veterinarian can help answer questions about whether treatments for your pet are available. Still, the decision process is fought with emotion and everyone dreads its necessity.
So, When is the Right Time?
Some pets simply become debilitated by age or disease to a point where their life quality deteriorates to an unacceptable level. This does not mean that improvement is not possible so it is important to seek counseling from your veterinarian about your pet’s condition and what may be possible to improve it.
Many medical issues that seem hopeless to a pet owner are surprisingly easy to palliate or even solve. Long-standing in-home urination problems may boil down to a bladder infection that can be resolved with antibiotics or sphincter tightening remedies.
Arthritis medication can yield great improvement in mobility. Unhealing wounds may represent allergies or endocrine issues (diabetes, Cushing’s disease or thyroid disorders) and not cancer.
It is best not to make your own assumptions about the reversibility of your pet’s condition. Have your veterinarian evaluate the pet before making your decision if possible. Find out what sort of supportive care you might need to perform as primary caregiver and what the associated expenses are. Once you have all the facts, you can have a realistic picture of what’s truly going on as well as what is feasible for you and your family.
Involve your veterinarian early. Find out treatment options and costs before making euthanasia decisions.
When You’ve Done all you Can: Life Quality Evaluation
Some quality of life criteria has been developed to help make this decision more definable.
While we hate to admit it, caregivers have limitations of what they are capable of doing and some pets are not willing to cooperate with the treatments that will help them recover. There is a point where all the love, attention, therapies, and special foods are just not enough.
- Does he/she still enjoy their favorite activities? The elderly pet does not necessarily need to continue chasing balls or jumping after Frisbees but should enjoy sleeping comfortably, favorite resting spots, your company, etc.
- Is your pet eating? Basically, quality life involves eating or at least interest in food. An animal that is hungry has vitality that must be considered, though this is not the only consideration.
- Is your pet comfortable? The pet should be free of debilitating pains, cramps, aches or even the psychological pain that comes from the development of incontinence in an animal that has been housebroken its entire life.
Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinarian who started a quality of life program for terminal pets called Pawspice, has published a scoring system for life quality called the HHHHHMM scale. You can easily Google this very helpful scoring system and see your pet’s situation in a more objective light.
After the Decision is Made
You may have some questions as to the process and if there are other options.
Should you be present for the procedure?
This is a very personal decision and there is no wrong answer. Many people simply cannot watch for emotional reasons. Others want to be sure their pet has at least one familiar family member there throughout. It is best to decide in advance which family members, if any, want to be there.
How is the procedure performed?
Not all veterinarians have the exact same steps, but the following is typical. Appropriate forms must be signed in order for the procedure to take place. If the owner is to be present, an intravenous catheter may be placed. This takes a few minutes and is usually done while paperwork is taken care of. Often payment is done prior to the procedure so that the owner will not have have to may payments and signs card slips after such an emotional event.
After the catheter is placed, the owner may spend some last time alone with the pet if desired. The procedure itself is very fast. If a sedative is to be used, it is given first so that the pet is euthanized from a sleeping status. The euthanasia solution, generally dyed a bright color so that it cannot be mistaken for anything else, is delivered and death comes peacefully in a matter of seconds.
Usually, the owner is allowed to remain with the pet for final private goodbyes. Some practices will come to your home for euthanasia in your pet’s own surroundings. There are also house call euthanasia services in some areas.
Let your veterinarian know in advance if you would like a lock of hair or the collar as a keepsake. Some clinics also offer a decorative clay paw imprint and there are often options for private cremation with ashes returned in an urn. There are also pet cemeteries for owners that prefer a traditional burial.
Your veterinarian can help guide you on the best option for you and your animal friend.