In our daily lives as veterinarians we spend much of our time trying to prevent illness, treat infection, diagnose and cure disease, palliate pain, and make the lives of our pets better. However, a small but significant part of our job is also helping our pets pass away quickly and peacefully when their time has come, and counseling people in their struggle to make that decision for their pets that are older or struggling with chronic disease.
The first step in trying to make a decision about euthanasia is to evaluate your pet’s current quality of life. Quality of life has many factors, but the tangible ones include:
· Mobility – the ability to get around in a basic fashion, without excessive pain.
· Nutrition and hydration – the ability and willingness to eat and drink comfortably.
· Social interaction/attitude – the willingness to interact socially in a rewarding way.
· Basic health functions – the ability to breathe, urinate, and defecate without pain or distress.
For some people, it is most helpful to be able to give their pet an objective score or number to help them assess their pet’s quality of life. The following are links to several of these types of assessments that can help guide you through that process:
· Lap of Love - Quality of Life 1
· Lap of Love - Quality of Life 2
· Villalobos Quality of Life Scale
For others, it is more helpful to think in more subjective terms. What are three things that your pet has always loved to do? Eat? Play with the ball? Chew on a bone? Rub their back in the grass in the sun? Can they still do those things? Do they still want to? If you notice that your pet no longer enjoys their usual activities, be sure you check with your veterinarian to see if pain relief, physical therapy, acupuncture, or other palliative care could make a difference in your pet’s quality of life. When two out of three things that used to make your pet happy are no longer possible or comfortable, it may be time to start thinking about euthanasia. When all three of their favorite things are things of the past, it may be time to let go.
Don’t ever be afraid to talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia. We are here to help and to guide you through the process of making this very difficult decision.
Photo credit: MarinaMariya | iStock