Despite all the diagnostics and treatments available for our pets, there comes a time when the end of life is inevitable.
We all hope their passing will be at an old age after putting them to bed at night. That we will awake in the morning to find they had passed peacefully in their sleep. Unfortunately, this rarely happens.
For many pets and their parents, the difficult decision of euthanasia often has to be faced. No one ever wants to make this decision. It is heartbreaking to even think about choosing to let a loved one go. Certainly if they are suffering from a terminal illness, it can be the right decision, but that never makes it easy.
We (Dr. Perry Jameson and Dr. Holly Mims) were forced to make this awful choice about 2 months ago and it is still hard for us to talk about.
Goldberg was our 13-year-old Manx cat.
Holly discovered that he was infected with FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), an untreatable infection.
Goldberg was resilient. He just kept cruising along.
He was always a temperamental cat. He would bite and scratch and only wanted to be petted when he wanted to be petted.
About four months ago, we began to notice that he was not doing his normal Goldberg things: like sleeping on the pillow beside her head or letting out a low rumble as one of the other cats passed by.
We thought he was just slowing with age. In hindsight, we were in denial.
Over several weeks, we saw that his appetite was declining and that he no longer wanted to be close beside us. Some of the changes were subtle, but he was just not acting like Goldberg.
One night while petting him, Holly noted that his abdomen seemed swollen. The next morning we took him to the hospital and performed an ultrasound. We found tumors in his kidneys, spleen and lymph nodes.
In some cats, this cancer will respond well to chemotherapy, but is not a cure. Holly and I knew Goldberg would hate the weekly treatments and his quality of life would be poor even if he responded.
After much consideration (and many tears), we made the hard decision to euthanize him.
There is no clear-cut way to decide when the time is right. Everyday, we council owners on how to make this decision. The ultimate decision varies from family to family and patient to patient.
To help guide clients, we use 3 parameters based on what brings joy and quality to the lives of both animals and humans.
1. Appetite: Pets love to eat. I know that for our seven pets, meal time is perhaps their favorite time of the day. When our pets feel so bad that they do not want to eat, I believe they are no longer having a good quality of life.
2. Human interactions: Interacting with the people we care about brings happiness to most of us and we feel like this is no different for our pets. When they no longer want to be with us, begin to distance themselves, or are in too much pain to move, I feel that another joyful part of their lives is gone.
3. Simple pleasures: Pets are like people in that they have unique personalities and have things they specifically like to do. For a cat, it may be sleeping in the sun in a certain spot or chasing a laser pointer. For a dog, it may be fetching a ball or. As they age, these interests can change, but they still get pleasure from the simple things and comforts. When we notice that they are no longer doing things they use to love, their quality of life is diminishing.
Unfortunately, there is no black-and-white answer as to when to decide that it is time to euthanize your pet.
Perhaps one of the most important questions to ask ourselves is are they still enjoying life or are we keeping them alive selfishly?
Euthanasia is a hard decision, but if done at the right time, it is one of the most unselfish choices we can make for our pets.
Often it is the last gift we can give them to reward them for their years of love and loyalty.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.