A Message from the Vet - April 2011

The life-or-death decision for your beloved pet can be one of the most difficult decisions you will face. Euthanasia literally translates to "good death" from its Greek roots, and is offered by many veterinarians for relief of your pet's pain and suffering. The option of euthanasia may become necessary if your pet is facing severe illness or if treatment is unavailable.

We often refer to "quality of life" as a way to judge whether our non-speaking companions are truly better off prolonging their life or if euthanasia would be a kindness for them. Things to consider are whether your pet continues to enjoy experiences he or she used to (playing, eating, spending time with you), or if your pet is experiencing more pain than pleasure. As your veterinarian, we can evaluate your pet's health and advise you on your pet's chances for recovery, special needs during treatment, or long-term problems that may result. We will gladly explain any medical or surgical treatment options that may exist, as well as the risks and possible outcomes of treatment. Although we cannot make your decision for you, we can help you better understand your pet's condition. We will always be available to answer any questions you have or address any concerns you have with your pet's condition and quality of life.

The question of euthanasia may also arise with a pet that has become dangerous or unmanageable, or if the financial cost of treatment is beyond your means. Some behavioral problems can be changed with training and medication, but your family's safety should always be the first priority. Payment plans in the form of Care Credit are available to help finance treatments for your pet. In some cases, it may be possible to find another home for the pet. We will be glad to discuss and help you pursue alternative options to euthanasia in your and your pet's best interest.

Making the decision together as a family can be helpful. Share your thoughts and feelings about your pet's illness and the option of euthanasia. Including your children in the discussion can also help them understand the decision and better deal with their grief. Keeping your answers simple and truthful can help prepare your children to accept the death of your pet.

The process of euthanasia administered by a veterinarian is quick and painless. The drugs administered cause unconsciousness prior to death. Sometimes the patient may continue to have muscle movements in their limbs or seem to take a few deep breaths after the drug is given, but these are only muscle reflexes and do not mean your pet is experiencing suffering. You may decide to be present during your pet's euthanasia, or you may say goodbye beforehand. This is a very personal decision and each family member should do what feels right for him or her.

After euthanasia, it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow. Being honest with yourself and talking to others about how you feel can help you work through these emotions and slowly adjust to life without your pet. Some people make a memorial keepsake in honor of their pet and are comforted by remembering special moments shared with their pet. There are animal charities that will accept memorial contributions in honor of your pet and the bond you shared. While your pet can never be replaced, you may eventually find joy in sharing your life with another.

Grieving the loss of a pet? Read the Rainbow Bridge poem here.

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.