Deciding to euthanize a pet is one of the most difficult decisions a pet owner will ever have to make. Unfortunately, debilitating conditions and chronic health issues caused by aging or illness can minimize a pet’s quality of life to the point where the owner must face the very difficult prospect of considering euthanasia. Advances in veterinary medicine have made deciding what to do even more challenging since it seems like there is always one more therapy to try or one more medicine that might help.
Even with all the alternatives we have today, it is likely that at some point you will be faced with making next to impossible decisions regarding your pet’s end of life. If the time should come, you want to make sure that you’ve done all you can for your beloved family member.
Deciding to Euthanize: Things to Consider
- Your pet’s age and health
- Possible outcomes after treatment
- Opinions of family members
- Financial stress
- Emotional stress
- Your pet’s quality of life
The process of deciding to euthanize starts with asking a veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s health. As part of the evaluation, many veterinarians use what they refer to as a “Quality of Life Index.”. The index is a guide for evaluating the pet across a number of important criteria. One of the most commonly used indexes is the HHHHHMM Scale. The scale was developed by Dr. Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP. Dr. Villalobos, a renowned veterinary oncologist, created the scale as part of Pawspice, a hospice program for terminally ill pets.
When using the scale, the veterinarian will work with the owner to evaluate the pet on seven criteria: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility and More good days than bad. Each category is rated on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being ideal. A total of more than 35 is considered an acceptable quality of life. (Click here for more on the Quality of Life Index.)
As an owner, you need to consider these questions:
- Does your pet still enjoy life?
- Is he or she experiencing more pain than pleasure?
- Is it humane to force your pet to endure a difficult illness?
- Will treatment be worth the additional years your pet may live?
- Do you have the time and energy to provide the extra care your pet may need?
- Can you and your family handle the stress, both financially and emotionally, of prolonging your pet’s life.
The vet can share ideas on the medical alternatives and likely outcomes as well as estimate the cost of treatment so you are better prepared to make the decision.
Once you have gathered information on your pet’s condition, medical alternatives, and possible outcomes, you will be able to discuss your options with your family. Even if they don’t support deciding to euthanize, they will better understand the challenges facing you and your pet and be better equipped to handle whatever decision is made. If you have other pets, also consider how they may react.
Recognizing limitations is not a measure of your love for your pet, so you shouldn’t feel guilty. When you’ve wrestled with the issue and made a decision in the best interest of your pet and your family, you can feel confident that you have made the right choice.
Preparing for Pet Euthanization
Once you have made the decision to euthanize your pet, you want to make the process as easy for your pet as possible. You also want to make sure that all the members of your family have a chance to say goodbye.
If your pet does not handle visits to the veterinarian well, you may want to opt for a vet who performs euthanasia in the home. Schedule your appointment early or late in the day so that your veterinarian won’t feel rushed. Also, consider a day and time that will give you a chance to prepare beforehand and to grieve afterward. If it is a work day, consider taking the day off. You’re making decisions in the best interest of your pet, but you also need to consider how you will be feeling.
Consider whether or not you would like to stay with your pet throughout the procedure. Some people choose to stay in the waiting room until they are notified that their pet has passed and then go in to view the animal and say goodbye. Others prefer to be with the pet when the time comes.
Pet Euthanasia — Quick and Peaceful
The euthanasia process is designed to be quick and peaceful. An intravenous solution, containing a fast-acting sedative, is injected into the animal’s front or back leg. Within seconds, the solution slows the heart to a stop. Involuntary muscle contractions that may appear as moving or gasping may occur, but this occurs after death.
Afterward, you may wish to spend a few minutes with your pet. You may also want a lock of your pet’s hair or a nametag as a memento. There’s no need to be shy about expressing your emotions and sharing your needs. No matter how prepared you may be, feeling pain and sadness is understandable and part of the grieving process.