Pet Euthanasia: Making the Decision by Dr. David Kerr

We live with Clyde, LeeLoo, Kitten, Keeper and Beans (he lives up to his name). They are all special to us and we as a family get great joy sharing our home with them. We have lived with Bear, Chase, Shelby, Annie, Misty, Curly Sue and Oliver but sadly they are no longer with us. They too added great joy and a little sadness while we lived together. We expect to outlive all five pets so, with any pet we have we are setting up for grief.

When pets have a traumatic incident, a serious disease or a life limiting cancer the decision process to make the end of life decision is sometimes easier because we know there is no hope of recovery. However, when a pet lives a long, active, healthy life and they start to decline slowly it is often difficult to identify a time when the decision should be made. The end-of-life decision revolving around euthanasia is very hard. When I counsel clients on how and when to make the decision we always talk about Quality of Life.

Thinking of our pet’s quality of life sometimes makes it easier to decide to euthanise. Remembering back to when our pet was younger and their youthful activity allows us to compare with what he or she is doing now. Cats love to roam around the house, are social and eat well and when these things start to fade there is a problem. Dogs love to run around, be social and eat and like cats, when these things fade decisions need to be made.

I like to look at three things that indicate Quality of Life. In both dogs and cats appetite and the desire to eat is important. Sure pets go off their food for a day or two sometimes but when the intake of food gradually or suddenly declines so that very little food is consumed over a 5-6 day period, warning bells must go off. Activity is also another thing to watch. Dogs love to play either inside or outside and they like to go for walks. When these things change and cannot be made better with medication, dogs will get depressed since they can no longer do the things they enjoy. The same hold for cats. Cats seem to sleep all the time but if you watch, they sleep in different areas around the house. They have a nap in one place and then follow the sun around the house. When a cat sleeps in the same spot all the time and does not move around, he is feeling pretty poorly. The third quality of life indicator is bathroom habits, cats using the litter box, dogs using the outdoors and neither messing in the house. Pets are usually very fastidious in their bathroom habits and when they do not have the energy to keep their surroundings clean their quality of life is suffering.

Dr. Alice Villalobos a veterinary oncologist has developed a more detailed assessment of quality of life and a link to this is attached.

Whichever scale is used, it is important to make the determination of Quality of Life for your pet so that a decision can be made to end suffering. With euthanasia we end the suffering of our pets and increase our own suffering but, this is the price we  pay for the many years of joy pets give us while we share lives together.