The Most Painful Decision
This past weekend I had to make the painful decision to euthanize my 15 year old dachshund. He was my first dog as an adult and I loved him as a family member. It made me want to share some thoughts about making painful decisions for pets and perhaps help those struggling with the decision.
Many think of grief as beginning after a loss. For many, however, grief can begin much earlier. Often it begins the day you realize that your pet is approaching the end of its life--even though the final loss of that pet may still be many months distant. This stage of grief is especially difficult because it is without closure. It can be difficult to find comfort during this stage, for even people who understand the pain of loss may wonder why you are grieving before your pet has actually died.
Grief for impending loss is complicated by the need to make difficult, painful decisions. How much treatment should you pursue? At what point will treatment cause more trauma than relief? Can you provide the care needed to keep your pet comfortable? Will your pet reach the point where no amount of care can ease suffering? At what point should you consider euthanasia?
As a veterinary hospital, we help people with these decisions every day. Our patients are our family and we want clients to make decisions they are comfortable with and help them through the process in a kind and comforting manner. Whenever possible, we believe it is best to develop a plan for end of life issues taking into consideration three basic issues:
1) When should you consider euthanasia? When your pet is ill, this may be the last question you want to think about, but it is the most important question you may need to answer. Start by asking your veterinarian what types of symptoms to expect as your pet's illness progresses. How long before symptoms become medically unmanageable? At what point will your pet become unable to function normally? This information can help you form a plan. Decide what boundaries on suffering you are comfortable with and use this to guide your decision.
2) Will you be there? Many people feel it is important to be present during euthanasia. Many others feel unable to handle this traumatic event. This is not a decision to be made lightly, or based on someone else's choices.
3) What will you do next? The worst time to decide what to do with your pet's remains is at the last minute. It is far better to discuss options in advance. For many this decision involves both physical and spiritual issues. There is nothing foolish about such considerations. Whether you feel "closer" spiritually if your pet's remains are close to you (such as in a cremation urn) or if you feel that your pet's soul and personality are not associated with its physical remains is an extremely personal decision. Ask your veterinarian about the options available to you and express any concerns you may have.
Many people have mixed up feelings about euthanasia, for good reason. It is one of the most stressful acts I perform as a veterinarian. No matter how well-intentioned we may be, this act feels like murder to many of us, and guilt may often haunt us long after the act. Even when we know intellectually that euthanasia may be the "best" or "most merciful" choice, that means little when we face the decision itself. Keep in mind that euthanasia is not selfish. Most of us who worry about "we should have done more" have already gone to extreme efforts to care for our pet. A far more dangerous form of selfishness is to prolong a pet's suffering to postpone one's own. Also, our pet's won't always tell us when it is "time". Pet's often are stoic and internalize suffering. It can be hard to tell when it is time. Talking to your veterinarian and making a plan can help prevent undue suffering. The truth is, as much as we love our pets, we will face losing them at some point. The decision therefore isn't if, but how and when. For many pets, euthanasia is the only "gift" we can give to them.
I hope this article helps some of you. It has been heavy on my mind after facing the loss of my own dog.
Dr. Amy Hasty
- Progress Park Veterinary Hospital3615 PROGRESS BLVDPhone: 815-224-2858
Peru, IL 61354-1165