How to decide when Euthanasia is the Right Choice .
Quality of Life for our Pets. How to Decide when Euthanasia is the Right Choice.
Animal euthanasia (from the Greek meaning “good death”) is the act of humanely putting an animal to death, or allowing it to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures. Reasons for euthanasia include incurable (and especially painful) conditions or diseases, or lack of resources to continue supporting the animal. Euthanasia methods are designed to cause minimal pain and distress. (Source: Wikipedia)
As medical care and resources improve, we are finding that our pets are living to an older age. Many ailments are aging, degenerative processes that can be managed with medication but unfortunately cannot be cured (e.g. arthritis, heart disease, some cancers). Eventually, the disease progresses beyond our ability to treat them and we must decide at what point the quality of life of our pet is suffering.
What is Quality of Life?
The quality of life of your pet is an indication of how much they are enjoying living. There is no concrete, check list of activities that a pet must display to say that their quality of life is good. We must use a combination of medical and professional Veterinary judgement and Owner based knowledge of their pet’s normal behaviour and characteristics to make this decision.
With every medical condition we can extrapolate from the human condition how painful or debilitating a condition would feel. Pain relief may be offered in the range of tablets, liquids or skin patches. Ideally treatment specific for each condition should also be used.
As with people, our pet’s all have an individual tolerance of pain. The activities that give a pet joy and happiness will also vary between individuals. For example a very active kelpie may become very depressed and unhappy if unable to exercise and chase balls whereas a smaller, older pug wouldn’t mind so much lying on the lounge and sleeping through most of the day. The normal lifestyle of the pet may impact of how we decide if they are having a good quality of life.
We must remember that euthanasia is a final decision and not a reversible act. With your Vet and your family we must decide if the decision to end life is the right one. Sometimes there are emotional attachments to our pets that extend beyond them being our pets and companions. They may have belonged to a deceased spouse or parent and are thus seen as the last living link to these people. They may be seen as the “only person who understands” and as such the decision to euthanase becomes a multi layered and complex emotional question. Do not under estimate the difficulty of this decision and if you need to; please call us at Vet HQ to discuss.
One way to consider the timing of euthanasia is to ask a number of questions:
- Is there anything that can be done to make my pet more comfortable; and am I willing to do it? (based on cost, level of intervention)
- Is my pet still enjoying and being able to do the things they previously liked doing?
- Is my pet having more good days than bad days or more bad days than good?
- Is there a “line in the sand” that would be the final straw to deciding (e.g. loss of appetite, loss of joy in meeting familiar people, not wanting to go for a walk, unable to go for a walk – this “line” is best decided between members of the pets immediate carers)
How is Euthanasia carried out?
The process of euthanasia in pets is carried out by an injection of a very powerful anaesthetic agent. It may be given in conjunction with a sedative injection.
The euthanasia injection acts like an anaesthetic. It will quickly lead to sleepiness; breathing and heart function will stop. Your pet will now be deceased.
Sometimes after the heart has stopped, reflex muscle and nerve action can lead to muscle twitches, uncontrolled urination and defaecation as well as a “terminal gasp” – this is a reflex deep breath that occurs after death.
The euthanasia can be carried out in your own home or at Vet HQ. We would like to accommodate you in any way possible during this difficult time. Your pet’s body can be individually cremated and the ashes will be returned to you or their body may be cremated as part of a group. It is a personal choice as to which method is used. There is no correct way to grieve or remember your beloved pet. You must do what feels right for you and your family.
Young children can be particularly affected by the death of their pet and getting them to draw pictures or tell stories about their pet can help with the grieving process. Sometimes a ceremony to say good bye to the pet can provide closure to young and old alike.
Our pets are very much part of the family, so their death is not meant to be easy. Allow yourself time to grieve. Some people find getting a new pet as soon as possible helps with this process. Others, find that a bit of time is needed to feel comfortable again with the idea of a new pet. Do what feels right for you.
If you feel your sadness is overwhelming, there are special counsellors available who specialise in pet grief. Our Vets and Vet nurses at Vet HQ can also be contacted if you need to chat about your loss or answer any questions you may have about your pet’s death.