Assessing your pet's quality of life
We have heard from countless pet owners that the death of their pet was worse than the death of their own parents. This might sound blasphemous to some, but to many, it’s the cold truth. Deciding to euthanize a pet can feel gut-wrenching, murderous, and immoral. Families may feel that they are letting their pet down, or that they are causing their best friend’s death. They forget that euthanasia is a gift that, when used appropriately at the right time, prevents further physical suffering for the pet and emotional suffering for the family. The hardest part of the experience is making the actual decision, and I’m asked on a daily basis, “Doc, how will I know when it’s time?”
As veterinarians, our job is to help a family make this difficult decision. There is no perfect moment to make this ultimate choice, unless the pet is truly suffering—something we are trying to prevent in the first place. Rather, there is a subjective time period, which may be hours, days, weeks, or months, when euthanasia is the appropriate decision. Prior to this time, veterinarians may refuse to euthanize a pet because they still have a good quality of life, but after this period passes, we may advocate for euthanasia, because their sustained suffering is obvious. During this subjective time, however, the family has to make whatever decision is best for them. Some owners need time to come to terms with their pet’s decline, while others want to prevent any unnecessary suffering at all.
Every pet owner is different and entitled to their own thoughts and beliefs. After all, you know your pet better than anyone—including your veterinarian.