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Veterinary House Call Practice
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The decision to euthanize

The decision to euthanize

The decision to euthanize a beloved family pet remains one of the most difficult decisions a person can make. Many hope that they will be spared this decision by the pet just dying on their own (in their sleep). While this does happen occasionally much more often the natural death of a pet becomes a prolonged and painful process for all involved.

When to make the decision - is it time? - there is no simple answer, but one fact remains constant, that for many the decision comes too late. Instead of a peaceful passage at home, the event becomes a painful memory of an animal in distress being rushed to the emergency clinic. This is followes closely by the regret that you have waited too long and your friend has suffered needlessly because of it.

The basis for this delay, I believe, comes from the fact that as an animal companion's life declines, we tend to focus all of our energy on enabling a longer life for our friend. To then accept the unacceptable, that we have failed and that the end is near, is a difficult thing to do. While we are grappling with this fact and trying to make the right decision, the decline of our friend accelerates. The delay caused by our struggle with 'Is this the day?' - 'Maybe tomorrow will bring an improvement...' - may allow our friend to slip into very real distress - the very last thing we wish for them.  

What can we do to make this decision easier?
First, try to separate from our very real emotional pain at their decline and focus on their pain. Try to evaluate basic functions that can allow quality of life to be assessed. These include behaviorial changes such as:
  • withdrawal from the family
  • sleeping in abnormal locations
  • inability to sleep soundly and peacefully
  • disinterest in activities that were once a source of enjoyment
  • change in temperament
  • failure to maintain the daily routine (ie: meeting you at the door, moving to sleep in a sunbeam, etc)

Basic daily functions can also change, such as:
  • bowel movements
  • urinations
  • drinking and eating

In addition, the very elderly can experience mental confusion and disorientation, incontinence and difficulty moving.
As these changes occur an evaluation by a veterinarian can give you options to help you and your companion as the end approaches. One option to consider is palliative / hospice care which allows their time with you to be as pain free as possible as you approach the end of your friendship. By starting this discussion early about 'end of life', you will be better equipped to make the right decision at the right time.

To assist you and and your family in evaluating your pet's changes, you may download what is known as the 'Quality of Life Scale' or the 'HHHHHMM Scale''Quality of Life Scale' or the 'HHHHHMM Scale'
'Quality of Life Scale' or the 'HHHHHMM Scale'

Size: 94.14K

- created by Dr. Alice Villalobos, a well known pioneer in the field of cancer care for companion animals and a founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society.


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