Euthanasia – when is enough, enough?

A post to pet owners at the end …..

In 2016 the number of pets in the UK was estimated at 57 million, thats almost as many pets as people. With that many pets its unsurprising that vets practices are getting busier and busier. On a typical 8am – 7pm day shift I will see anywhere between 30-100 clients and inevitably some of those clients come in to have their pet put to sleep.

Of course not all owners come to see me wanting to have their animals put to sleep. Some people know their pet is very sick and are clinging onto hope that I can save them, others have no idea their beloved pet is so sick and others just don’t want to accept it.

When I meet new people and I tell them that I am a vet, most people will say something along the lines of ‘I couldn’t  do that, I love animals. I wouldn’t want to put animals down’. Well the truth, is I love animals too, and that precisely why I willingly put animals to sleep every single day.

To most vets euthanising an animal is a privilege, its a unique chance to end the suffering of a beloved pet, to let them slide painlessly and effortless to sleep. Now, I realise that sounds like a very romanticised version of what euthanasia is, and don’t get me wrong its very rarely easy, but its almost always right.

You see putting an animal to sleep is never a welfare concern, only ever an ethical one. Euthanising an animal will end its life and therefore any current suffering or any future suffering it may endure – and to prevent suffering is the oath we take as vets. Now the ethics are certainly more difficult, most animals I put to sleep are old and ill with a deteriorating quality of life. Most but not all. Euthanising aggressive animals, those who’s owners cannot afford healthcare and abandoned animals are also part of my job – but thats  a post for another day.

This post addresses when is the right time to put your pet to sleep. For some owners it is very obvious, when Charlie doesn’t want to eat his dinner, go for a walk or come for a cuddle, you know he has had enough. For other owners its not that easy.

As a vet, I never presume to know what your animal is like at home. How can I possibly judge whether Rosie still enjoys cuddles, can still chase the neighbours cat or will still eat her dreamies when she won’t eat anything else. In fact, how can anybody truly know how Rosie feels … you included, after all she can’t tell you. How do either of us know whether her hips hurt when she gets up to greet you wagging her tail, or her head hurts when she’s curled in front of the fire. After all dogs are notorious for hiding their pain to keep up with the pack, and cats to avoid seeming weak to other territorial cats. What I usually do know, however, is your pets state of health. Every pet owner must know what it is that makes their pets life worth living, and as they become older it is important to hold yourself to those values.

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Most cats and dogs will suffer from a similar array of diseases when the end comes. Kidney disease, heart failure and cancer are just a few, what my experience as a vet has taught me is how this will affect your beloved pet. If your vet suggests euthanising your pet due to chronic or terminal illness its because experience has taught us that time and disease will not be kind to your pet. We fear they will suffer despite our interventions and our best efforts. I would not suggest euthanasia to you if I didn’t think it would be a practical, reasonable and suitable option. I would much rather fix your pet and send them home than have to help you say goodbye. However, it must be your choice as to how and when your loved one goes and we are here to guide you to make the right decision.

It’s my opinion that if your pet dies at home, then in some occasions we have failed, both as owners and as vets to recognise and address the severity of disease present. Unfortunately, most animals do not die peacefully in their sleep like we might like to imagine, and if your pet was sick enough to die at home then we should have recognised that sooner and either attempted / adjusted treatment or if that was not possible euthanised them to prevent further suffering. Of course not all deaths at home involve suffering, especially if you and you vet have chosen to use appropriate palliative care.

“If your pet dies at home, then in some occasions we have failed, both as owners and as vets.

Some clients suggest that as vets, we are too eager to put animals to sleep – that it is easier to do so, or that we have given up too soon. However, I can promise you that I will do everything I can for your pet, just as I would for my own, but when the time is right I must do what is best your pet and not just for you. Remember, its often better for you pet to have gone a day too soon, than a day too late. It is always harder for you than it is your pet, after all it is much more painful to be left behind than to leave.

“Remember, its often better for you pet to have gone a day too soon, than a day too late.”

You will struggle to find a vet who does not own a myriad of animals, mostly missing the odd leg, or an eye. We have all been in the same position as you… we have all lost pets that we loved, and we have all had at least one put to sleep. We all know how hard it can be.

When the time is right I ask that you stay with your pet if you can, for they have spent a lifetime devoted to you and need this one last act of bravery in return. I have seen too many animals look longingly out the door after you have left, trembling and scared by their surroundings, terrified of the strangers that hold them close as they slip away. Put on your bravest face and hold back the tears as best as you can, so that your beloved pet will not feel scared, after all, all they will feel is sleep taking over and should have no reason to feel frightened unless you are.

For help or support after loosing a pet:

https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-support

***My blog is limited exclusively to my own thoughts and opinions and does not reflect those of anyone else or my employers***
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