Dogs can be a man’s best friend; cats can keep a person from being lonely and many other household pets can make close companions for years. But just like us, pets get older, sick and tired, and their time must come to an end. At that point, pet owners often must make difficult decisions.
With medical treatment and cancer therapy today, owners are able to keep their pets alive for extended amounts of time and give them quality of life, according to Dr. Heather Weihl, a staff veterinarian at Elliott Bay Animal Hospital located between Magnolia and Queen Anne. However, there comes a time when an owner may have to contemplate euthanasia.
“It’s one of the hardest things we do, but it’s also one of the best things we do,” Weihl said. A lot of factors are taken into consideration when deciding whether euthanasia is a better option than continued medical treatment.
“It’s such an individual decision and also the hardest decision that people have to make when it’s a pet that has been in your family for a long time,” said Dr. Shanna Pace, an internal medicine veterinarian at Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle.
Throughout a pet’s life, the owner should mentally note five things that their pet loves to do, according to Pace. At the point when the pet stops doing one or more of these things, owners should discuss their options with their vet, according to Pace.
“Euthanasia is sometimes one of the treatment possibilities; it is the one final medical procedure/treatment that we can do. The alternative sometimes is letting an animal die on its own, with or without medical hospice involvement,” said Dr. Jeff Parke of Seattle Veterinary Housecalls.
A veterinarian will not put a pet to sleep unless there is absolutely no other treatment that can be done to save the animal.
“Sometimes they don’t look very well but I can make them better,” said Weihl. “I have to have the knowledge that euthanasia is the best I can do for them, such as when they aren’t ill mentally but have so much pain or dysfunction that they cannot get around well enough.”
Seattle resident Mackenzie Cleary, 18, had to make the difficult decision of putting her horse down. Her horse?s hind legs were severely damaged and torn from a rusty metal surface at a horse show and continued to have complications with the rust.
“We had to consider the factors of how long her recovery process would take, how much we would spend on surgery and treatment, whether she would make it through surgery or not,” said Cleary, adding that she also thought about whether the horse “would be comfortable and pain-free the rest of her life, if she would make a full a full recovery at all, and if she would still be mobile after surgery.”
After much contemplation, Cleary and her family realized that medical treatments would be inconclusive and their horse would be in pain for the rest of her life. Their financial situation, which is often an issue for many pet owners, also did not allow them to risk any surgeries. Therefore euthanasia was the best decision they could make so their horse would no longer be in pain.
Many pet owners continue to find that euthanasia is the most humane way to let their pets go after medical treatments will not suffice and their financial situation cannot support any more extensive treatments.
“A vast majority of people would rather have them die humanely,” said Pace. “The whole process of dying is not as angelic as we think it should be, so they tend to decline to a point where it’s hard to watch them.”
As hard as it is for owners to put down their pets, it’s not as easy for veterinarians, either.
“While you’re doing a humane thing, you’re still taking a life. But it’s always in the best interest, at least in medical cases. I’ve never met a vet who said it was ‘no sweat,’” Pace said.
Veterinarians often develop their own relationship with clients and it becomes hard, according to Weihl.
“It takes a lot of energy, but as hard as it is for me to see people grieve, euthanasia is a privilege,” she said. They have the options to die humanely rather than in pain, according to Weihl. She tries to make sure it is as peaceful as possible, and even offers to have it done in the owner’s own home so that their pet does not have to take that last car ride to the hospital.
For animals in shelters, the end of life can be far harsher than that of a family pet. Many shelters have to put down animals if they are not adopted because they don?t have space for them. This is one of the biggest reasons that pets in shelters get euthanized, according to Pace.
“It is a big problem in this country. An animal is a huge commitment, and a lot of people don’t realize that when they think about getting a cat or a dog, and that’s a big reason they are turned in to shelters,” she said. Pace always recommends that people look into adopting pets before buying from a breeder.
Some shelters have made vast improvements in quality of life for pets, such as the Seattle Animal Shelter.
“We are very fortunate to have around 600 volunteers and 150 foster families,” said shelter executive director Don Jordan. “The only animals that we euthanize are ones that are terminally ill, dangerous or too old.”
There are resources out there to help determine the best and most humane way to take care of a pet once their health beings to decline.
“Your veterinarian understands your bond with your pet and can examine and evaluate your pet’s condition, explain treatment options along with any risks and estimated chances for recovery, and discuss possible outcomes including any potential disabilities, special needs or long-term problems,” according to avma.org,the American Veterinary Medical Association website.