When To Euthanize, Reader Question


Q: My 13-year-old dog passed away last month. I’m grateful I was able to be with him when he passed away at home. My buddy did have a full checkup two months before. The veterinarian had asked about any changes in the dog’s behavior. While standing in the office, it was impossible for me to ask what I should expect and how much time I’d have with my dog. There had been signs he was approaching the end of his life, but I was unable to get much information about this process from Internet searches. Could you do readers a favor by identifying stages of natural death in our pets? — B.M., St. Petersburg, FL

A: Most importantly, I’m sorry for your loss. Sadly, there seems to be a communication gap between you and veterinarian. You did the right thing by apparently expressing your concerns to the veterinarian, and it seems your veterinarian was right in asking about changes in your declining friend’s behavior. Without having been present, I can’t discern what could possibly have gone wrong. Were you both avoiding “the e-word”? In my opinion, euthanasia is a final act of love which should have been discussed.

Of course, a lifetime of regular veterinary visits provides preventive care, and allows for catching illness early. Another equally significant benefit is that your veterinarian gets to know both you and your pet.

By way of example, Lucy, our 15-year-old miniature Australian Shepherd, who had been declining, fell ill. We rushed her to an emergency veterinarian. After her release, I took Lucy to see our general practitioner. When I walked into her office, all Dr. Natalie Marks, of Chicago, did was give me a look, her eyes teared up, and she hugged me. Without saying a word, she told me “It’s time.” And I needed her “third party” perspective. I also knew she understood what was medically going on with Lucy. And clearly, there is trust and rapport between myself and my veterinarian. We communicated in a way which I gather you and your veterinarian weren’t able to do.

In my opinion, one drawback of becoming so incredibly attached to our pets is that we have a hard time letting go, and frequently wait longer than we should to relieve their suffering. In fact, suffering can often be avoided. (Of course, I’m by no means suggesting this was true in your case, since I have no way to know if you waited “too long.”)

I do advocate in-home euthanasia, at least as an option. Many people simply prefer the privacy and dignity of euthanizing in-home. Other people opt to not have their final farewell to their pet take place in the home. I do think pet owners should be given this option, when medically feasible.

To answer your question about stages to watch for…In part, that depends on what’s wrong with your pet. Here’s what to pay attention to: If your pet is in pain which can no longer be controlled; your pet is no longer interested in food or interacting with beloved family members, and is merely just existing rather than living, it may be time to euthanize.

Dr. Alice Villalobos offers a “Quality of Life Scale,” which many pet owners find useful.

Still, while a Google search can offer some general tips, you won’t learn about your own pet but your veterinarian can do that – when the relationship is right.

©Tribune Media Services, Steve Dale