Having to decide
to euthanize a beloved companion and for many a family member is a unique and painful time. One has feelings of whether or not we have the moral right to intervene in addition to decisions of how and when. Emotions such as guilt, or the stress of anticipatory grief can cloud are decision making.
Decisions surrounding euthanizing a pet, is therefore, an individual decision. It is based on one’s own sense of what is right for them and their animal. As owner’s we take on the responsibility of being our pets stewards in life.
A General Guide on how to decide whether or not to euthanize you pet:
Quality of Life: What is your pets current quality of life?
Try to list things your pet enjoys doing on a daily basis. (i.e. going on a walk, greeting you when you get home, sitting with you in the evening, playing with a toy etc.) Are they still doing these thing? Do they enjoy interacting with the family?
Deciding when to euthanize a cat can be much more difficult. The feline species by nature are not only masters at hiding disease, but also more stoic. In the wild, if they displayed illness or weakness they became prey. This is important to watch more closely when evaluating your feline friend. Questions you may ask are. Is your cat still grooming? Still seeking out your affection and attention or hiding away?
Try to list things that have a negative effect on your pets well being. (i.e. boredom, isolation, pain, being picked on by other animals in the household)
Is he or she still able to carry out normal body functions such as eating, drinking, walking, eliminating? Is your pet painful? If so, have you investigated the reasons for the pain. Have specific medications then been tried to alleviate the pain?
What is the medical prognosis? Are viable treatment options available and are you able to afford them?
Do you have all the information you need to make a decision?
A More Specific Guide: The HHHHHHMM Quality of Life (QoL) Scale
This is a more specific assessment guide used in consultation with a Veterinarian to help pet owners with their most difficult decision: Knowing when the right time is to euthanize their pet. It is used for patients who’s owners have embraced palliative care, (no further diagnostic procedures) or Pet hospice care (Pawspice Care). In addition, this scale might guide highly bonded pet owners, who might be in denial to consider issues that are difficult to face or help the care givers improve upon their pets home care.
If your pet is feeling the anxiety and pain of respiratory distress there is no quality of life. In other words, your pet is having difficulty breathing and is just living to breath. They may even be having difficultly resting and sleeping. Many need to sit up with their front legs extended out from their chest in an effort to open up their chest capacity. There is no quality of life and hospice care should not be continued. Humane pet euthanasia or putting your pet down is indicated.
- Relieving pain is the number one aspect in a pets quality of life. Currently for the pain of arthritis many use Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) these are drugs in the same class of medications as aspirin. In this class of drugs (NSAIDS) are those called Cox-2 inhibitors. Cox-2 in an enzyme in the prostaglandin pathway for pain and inflammation. These drugs block this pathway and have less side effects such as peptic ulcers.
- As Veterinary medicine advances in its protocols for pain management, more and more drugs are not at our disposal. Consult your hospice Veterinarian to see which drug or drug combinations is appropriate for your pet.
- If your pet has cancer, pain is often more severe at night. As tumors grow, they can impinge on and stimulate local tissue pain receptors or cause tissue damage and inflammation resulting in pain.
- Proper nutrition is essential to keeping a functioning immune system, especially if the patient is older and more prone to infections. Therefore, monitoring food intake and weight is important. If 10% of body weight is lost in a 3-5 day period, supplemental feeding with a feeding tube is necessary.
- Some patients either with chronic disease, usually cancer suffer from cachexia or a wasting syndrome. Protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism is altered and the pet losses weight, muscle mass and a loss of appetite.
- In cancer simple carbohydrates are used in preference as an energy source, so the optimal diet is one that is lower in simple carbohydrates and higher in proteins and fats. Consult your oncologist for their recommendations.
- Innova EVO
- Hill’s n/d (neoplasia diet)
- Merrick (Before Grain) and Wysona
- Adequate fluid intake is 22ml/kg/day.
- Some patients may benefit from subcutaneous fluid supplementation in order to keep them hydrated. Many owners can be taught to administer these sterile electrolyte balanced fluids.
- Proper hygiene is essential to the well-being of the pet. Cats especially do better when they feel well groomed and clean.
- Excrement and urine can cause scalding of the skin and result in areas of acute moist dermatitis.
- Is your pet anxious, depressed, bored, isolated, afraid or non interactive with the rest of the family?
- Create events of enjoyment and interaction with your pet. Pet them, talk to them and play with them. Move them closer to where the family interacts.
- This is a challenge for the larger breeds of dogs. In order to prevent problems such as recumbent pneumonia and bed sores, they must be moved or rotated every 2 hours.
- Sadly, the inability to be mobile is a common reason for humane pet euthanasia.
- If a patient in palliative care has more than 3-5 bad days in a row, quality of life is lowered and humane pet euthanasia should be considered.
One Last but Important Thing to Remember
After we have agonized over our decision and our best friend is gone, for many guilt and doubt remains. Together they rob us of our confidence and turn our precious memories into a source of pain. We question ourselves or the Veterinarian with:
Did I do the right thing?
Should I have waited longer?
Should I have tried something else?
Remember that the decisions you made at the time came out of love and caring and the conclusion to euthanize your pet was not easy.
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