Humane euthanasia – facing a difficult decision
By Laura Higgins, DVM
Brady Smith, a previously healthy 12 year-old Golden Retriever, woke his owners at 2:00 am, obviously distressed. Brady had collapsed, and the Smiths now found themselves rushing to the veterinary emergency room where he was diagnosed with internal bleeding likely due to cancer. There were procedures the medical team could do in order to stabilize Brady, and potentially even offer him many wonderful months of good quality life. Yet, after initial diagnostics and much consideration, the Smith family elected to forego further treatment and let Brady go peacefully with humane euthanasia. The story above is not based on an actual patient, however he does represent a very common scenario in which many families and their veterinarians are faced. Yet, not all euthanasia decisions are rushed, or considered an emergency situation. In many cases, a pet’s chronic discomfort or gradual decline may cause pet owners to wonder if it is time to consider humane euthanasia. Daily activities we may take for granted such as their ability to get around easily, or urinate and defecate regularly in the appropriate spot, can sometimes become important measures of a pet’s quality of life. It’s important to remember as a pet owner, or guardian, it is our responsibility to provide for them the best we can in both life and death.
The term euthanasia is derived from a Greek word meaning “good death.” In the majority of cases, euthanasia is a peaceful experience. Generally an IV catheter is placed in a limb and the veterinarian administers a series of drugs to the patient, causing them to fall asleep gently as their heart and respiratory rates quickly stop. The procedures for exotic pets and large animals vary, however, in all cases the patient’s comfort is of utmost importance. It is traumatic to be faced with the life of a loved pet in your hands. A pet owner may feel guilty and overwhelmed. Some questions to ask yourself and your veterinarian are: What will be your pet’s overall quality of life? Can it be improved with treatment? Is that treatment financially and/or logistically feasible? Is your pet in pain or suffering? If your pet is elderly or chronically ill, it may be difficult to evaluate the changes in their life as they have likely been gradual over time. It is frustrating to hear, “you’ll know when it’s time,” as the answer is not always glaringly obvious. For example, I often tell families who are struggling with this tough decision to list the things that define their pet. If you find many of those daily things are no longer a part of your pet’s life, this may help you objectively evaluate their quality of life. Also, it’s important to think about availability of finances for treatment and your ability to provide the necessary care your pet may need, as nursing care in ailing pets can sometimes be quite demanding.
The majority of American households consider their pets a part of their family, and the loss of their pet is felt deeply by all remaining family members. If you have young children be honest with them as using terminology such as “going to sleep” can be frightening. If you feel the child is old enough to comprehend the reasons behind the euthanasia, it is helpful to explain to them exactly how it will happen. If left to their own imaginations, children’s ideas on euthanasia may result in fear or anxiety. I find most children handle saying goodbye to their pet with great dignity and courage. As long as parents feel their own grief will not be frightening to their children, including the whole family can be a loving experience and one most veterinarians are happy to provide.
If you are considering humane euthanasia of your pet, discuss these issues with trusted family and friends, as well as your veterinarian. There is not always a right or wrong answer and it is important to remember not everyone would, or even should, make the same choice. Deciding to euthanize a loved pet is tough. However, as guardians of these special family members, euthanasia can also be the kindest, most loving decision we will ever make on their behalf.
AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, surgery, emergency and critical care, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and blood bank services for pets. They are located in Longmont at 104 S. Main St. For more information, go to www.AspenMeadowVet.com.