The euthanasia decision for a beloved pet may be one of the most difficult choices you must face during your lifetime. It is hard to make a life-ending determination like this for someone who cannot tell you what his wishes are and yet a judgment call must be made. There are emotional issues such as guilt, grief, and uncertainty as well as financial and/or time commitment matters in choosing to treat or not treat an illness. Family members with differing opinions or philosophies may be involved. The decision process is arduous and everyone dreads its necessity.
You likely have questions about how to tell whether the right time has come in addition to questions about what to expect and what the procedure is. Dr. Susan Holt is here to guide you through these difficult issues so that you can be certain in the years to come that you made the right decision without regret.
When is it the right time?
Quality of Life
What is Quality of Life?Quality of life is a frequent term used to assess how an pet is fairing in the midst of aging or illness.
You know your pet the best, and are the expert regarding the quality of his or her life. Your evaluation will probably occur multiple times throughout your animal’s illness. If there are other people who also love this animal, it may be helpful, especially with children, to involve them in some discussions regarding quality as you are faced with decisions.
Here are some ideas of how to objectively gauge quality of life:
First, take a moment and decide how you define quality in terms of living with quality. Truthfully answer some key questions such as:
- Is your pet eating and drinking normally?
- Can it relieve itself on its’ own?
- Can your pet move around on its’ own?
- Is your pet interested in the activities around it?
- Is your pet withdrawn much of the time?
PainPain is a physical and emotional sensation that can be complicated to assess. Keep in mind, a pet’s reaction to pain is dependent upon its personality and the degree of pain it’s experiencing. Ask your veterinarian what signs your pet may display to indicate pain.
SufferingSuffering is more than physical attributes, and involves the ability to enjoy living life. Use the above tools to help decide if important qualities are diminishing or are no longer present in your pet’s life. These may help you to define what suffering would be for your pet and create a plan to prevent or limit any suffering.
Measuring Quality of LifeYou might also consider some of the following suggestions to help gain an even deeper understanding of your pet’s current quality of life.
Create a List of Your Pet’s Unique QualitiesYou might also consider some of the following suggestions to help gain an even deeper understanding of your pet’s current quality of life.
Your pet is a very special individual with their own special customs. These are a few general ideas to help you get started on your own list:
- Chasing a ball
- Playing with other pets
- Greeting you at the door
- Playing with toys
- Wanting to go for walks
- Usual habits like scratching on a post and rubbing your legs or barking at a neighbor
Keep a Good Day/Bad Day CalendarEvaluate what a good day would be for your pet, and also what a bad day looks like. Each evening, recall the day and decide if it was a good or bad day, marking a calendar with a happy face or a sad face. Decide how many bad days in a row occur before quality is compromised.
You also can use a marble jar for this same purpose. For each good day, a marble is placed in a jar. For every bad day, a marble is removed from the jar.
Keep a JournalKeep a daily record of events in your and your pet’s life. This will help you look back and reflect on changes that occur and how your life is affected.
(Reprinted with permission from the Argus Institute, Colorado State University)
QUALITY OF LIFE SCALE:
Dr. Alive Villabose, a veterinarian who started a quality of life program for terminal pets called Pawspice, has published a scoring system for life quality called the HHHHHMM scale (see scoring system below). Having a quality of life inventory is helpful in seeing your pet’s situation in a more objective light.
After the decision is made you may have some questions as to the process and if there are other options.
Should you be present for the procedure?
This is a very personal decision and there is no wrong answer. Many people simply cannot watch for emotional reasons. Others want to be sure their pet has at least one familiar family member there throughout. It is best to decide in advance which family members, if any, want to be there.
Every owner wants to think of euthanasia as a gentle slipping into death much like falling asleep. While every effort is made to approximate this vision, the pet will probably not close its eyes, and there may be a final twitch or gasp. Some animals will urinate or release other body fluids as they relax. To help ease this transition between and death, sometimes a tranquilizer is given first, thus alleviating some of the above.
How is the procedure performed?
The intravenous catheter serves several purposes. First, the euthanasia solution is painful if administered outside the vein. The catheter ensures clean access to the vein, even if the owner is holding the pet. The catheter also allows for a sedative to be administered prior to the euthanasia solution. Not all veterinarians use catheters.
After the catheter is placed, the owner may spend some last time alone with the pet if desired. The procedure itself is very fast. If a sedative is to be used, it is given first so that the pet is euthanized from a sleeping status. The euthanasia solution, generally dyed a bright color so that it cannot be mistaken for anything else, is delivered and death comes peacefully in a matter of seconds. The owner is allowed to remain with the pet for final private goodbyes. At the end of this time after the last goodbyes and caresses, the doctor will transport the remains unless the owner requests to keep the remains for at home burial.
After the procedure is over, there are some options regarding your pet’s remains. In some municipalities, city ordinances preclude burying pets at home. Otherwise, a cremation service is used. Typically you can choose between a group cremation and an individual one. In a group cremation, you do not receive any ashes. An individual one will cost more, but you will have your pets' ashes. The cost for the remains will be discussed prior to the procedure.
Quality of Life Scale:
Dr. Alice Villalobos, the veterinarian who started Pawspice, a quality of life program for terminal pets, has published a scoring system for life quality called The HHHHHMM scale. The letters stand for: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days than Bad.
Please refer to the links below for he "quality of life scale":
Adapted from Villalobos, A.E., Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN, 09/2004, for Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, by Blackwell Publishing, Table 10.1, released 2006
August 25, 2003 (published) | June 30, 2016 (revised) - Wendy Brooks
CANINE QUALITY OF LIFE SCALE:
FELINE QUALITY OF LIFE SCALE:
FELINE QUALITY OF LIFE SCALE: