the moment of truth: deciding about euthanasia

The other night I had a conversation with a dear, lifelong friend. She sought my opinion and advice about her impending decision about when to euthanize her dog, who suffers from a terminal heart condition. This decision is the ultimate terror for any pet parent. I believe all of us would rather our pet just pass peacefully in his sleep and spare us the misery of choosing the proper time. The right time. The best time.

Each situation is unique in terms of the pet and the owner. There is the physical status of the pet and the emotional condition of the owner. And, though we don't want to expose the elephant in the room, there is the financial aspect, as well. I believe that all three issues must be taken into consideration, with the pet's comfort and quality of life being the absolute number one consideration.

I have helped several clients and friends through this difficult time, and the hardest situation is when the owner can't let go and lets the pet suffer. I have only witnessed this a couple of times and was able to gently guide things in what I considered to be the direction in the best interest of the pet.

When evaluating the physical condition of the pet and deciding when to make the final call, I truly believe in the "you'll know" philosophy. You know your pet best. If they aren't themselves and can't enjoy life, you'll see that. There is a difference between a pet who is slowing down and a pet who is in pain and can't function. The connection between you and your pet can't be denied, and your pet will be able to communicate to you in some way. You'll be in tune to that, and you'll do the right thing, even though it's hard.

Your emotional state is very important, though secondary to your pet's needs. When we become pet parents, we have to know that eventually we will likely be called upon to make this decision. No matter what, there will be some degree of guilt...Did I wait too long? Did I do it too soon? Did I do enough? You have to know that you have done the best you can for your pet. Your pet knows that. Your pet knows your love. Your pet knows. Though the last moment we have with our pets is usually heartbreaking, it's hopefully peaceful, and we should walk away remembering not just that moment, but all the wonderful times, which made up the majority of your time together.

And then there's the money. Having a pet with a long-term disease or issue can often be costly, and the decisions we have to make regarding what to do and the extent to go to can be financially agonizing, which only adds to our guilt. Even if you have all the money in the world, some tests and procedures can be invasive, stressful, and even painful for your pet. Regardless of cost, you have to evaluate the likelihood that it will make a difference. If you can afford something and it's minimally invasive to a declining pet, then go for it. But spending any amount of money on something that is very unlikely to make a difference, especially if it is invasive, just doesn't make sense for you or your pet. I have seen people spend thousands of dollars for an invasive procedure that had little chance of bettering the quality of their pet's life. It can certainly make you feel that you've done absolutely everything. That helps your emotions in the moment, but it doesn't help your pet. And it doesn't help your pocketbook to consent to unnecessary procedures. If you have a quality veterinarian (that you've hopefully built a relationship with), they will help guide you through the process. Most have you're pet's best interests at heart.

Your pet's quality of life is the number one priority. When we sign up to be pet parents, we commit to making the best decision for those in our care. Finances must also be considered, as well as our own emotions. This time in your pet's life is, without question, the most difficult. Trust your instincts, and move forward with confidence. The love and unbreakable bond will be there, no matter what.