This month I wanted to write my blog on the difficult process of making end of life decisions and euthanasia in veterinary medicine. I quickly realized there are so many facets to this very important topic, from addressing difficult emotions, vital decision-making, quality of life assessment, the procedure itself, and after care for both the pet’s remains and the grieving family. I have decided to divide this discussion into two monthly installments so as to fully address this complex subject, one that is a fundamental aspect of pet ownership as well as an every day reality for your veterinary caregivers.
Firstly, it is important to establish a long-standing and honest relationship with your veterinarian so that they can help guide you as medical issues arise. Maintaining this connection can help ease difficult decision-making if your veterinarian has had the opportunity to get to know you and your pet, their medical history, and also have a sense of the individual relationship you have with your companion.
However even with all the love and medical attention one may be able to provide it is almost inevitable that at some point a pet’s quality of life deteriorates to an unacceptable level. The pet may have a terminal disease, mobility issues, unmanageable pain, or multiple concurrent problems.
It can be helpful to use certain criteria when assessing your pet’s quality of life. Does he/ she still enjoy their favorite activities? Is he/ she comfortable or are they in pain? Is he/she still social with the family or have they withdrawn? Is he/ she eating well? Sometimes there are more emergent or traumatic situations when owners are thrust into having to make a euthanasia decision unexpectedly and hurriedly.
In either case owners will frequently experience a myriad of swirling emotions such as guilt, confusion, sadness, remorse, uncertainty, and grief. There can be added factors such as conflicting opinions amongst family members, navigating the discussion with children, or having to take into account the economic factors of pursuing a medical treatment. It is important to remember that making the painful decision to euthanize a pet is one made out of compassion, love, and respect for the bond you have with your friend.
Although this is a very sad decision to have to make, euthanasia should be viewed as a loving gift, allowing the pet to be free from suffering at the end of their natural life. As a veterinarian, I feel fortunate to have euthanasia as a treatment option for my patients. I make every attempt to help owners navigate through the multitude of factors and emotions that are involved in the decision-making process and the actual procedure.
In next month’s blog I will explain how the euthanasia procedure usually takes place, options for the pet’s remains, and resources available to help owners with difficult emotions.