I’m often asked about what the hardest part of my job is. There are parts of veterinary medicine that are physically demanding while other areas are mentally or intellectually demanding. But the most difficult aspect of companion animal veterinary medicine is, in my opinion, euthanasia, particularly with pets that were special to their owners and families.
Euthanasia is something that will touch all good pet owners at one time or another. On very rare occasions pets will pass peacefully in their sleep, never having given a sign of suffering. Other times pets will have a traumatic and immediate end to their life, such as a hit-by-car type of incident. These are the exceptions, not the rules.
Because of great advancements in veterinary medicine over the past 20 to 30 years, we’ve been able to help our patients live longer, fuller lives.
*Diseases such as Parvovirus and Feline Leukemia that took our pets at much younger ages are now preventable.
*Dental disease that can lead to heart or liver disease is much better understood and our ability to treat it is now current with the human side of care.
*Our diagnostic abilities have improved dramatically, as well. Who had access to, let alone could afford an abdominal ultrasound for their cat 15 years ago?
All of these and more have contributed to providing long-term quality-of-life for our pets.
But death is a part of life, and even though we’re able to treat some diseases and put off others, there will come a time for all of our pets where our collective abilities will not be able to sustain them.
The subject of euthanasia is the cause of much debate on the human side of medicine, but there is no debate on the veterinary side of medicine. The ability to end an animal’s suffering, or prevent even greater suffering is something that can be lovingly provided to a good companion and friend.
“How will I know when it’s time?” This is a question that we hear on a regular basis. Nobody can make this decision better than the owner because the owner knows their pet better than anyone else. It’s important to evaluate our pets’ quality-of-life as objectively as possible. If there is suffering that can be treated, then by all means, we can pursue treatment. But if there is suffering that cannot be relieved, if your pet is sick beyond anyone’s control, the most fair and loving decision is to end their suffering.
An easy decision? No way. Even when the pain and suffering is clear, letting go and saying, “Good-bye,” is terribly difficult. It’s not uncommon to have feelings of guilt about euthanasia, but relieving untreatable suffering is a loving, noble thing to do. Between the two doctors here at Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic, we’ve had to make this decision for a number of our own pets, and each time it was full of deep emotion, grieving and lots of tears. If or when you are faced with the decision of putting your pet to sleep, please understand that our veterinarians and team know how you feel and know that the “letting go” is very, very hard.
(*Betty and Bridget were two very special dogs. Betty was Drs. Jenn & Ryan’s naughty pug, and Bridget was their wonderful boxer, taken by a brain tumor shortly after her 7th birthday. May all of our pets’ memories live on in our hearts.)