When to Euthanize

This is a subject that is a part of every pet owner’s life – how to handle a pet’s last days.

My first dog I ever had to put to sleep was terminal with cancer. I asked my then Vet more than once, “How will I know when it’s time?” and she always answered, “You’ll just know”. This was not at all helpful to me. When I did make the decision, I questioned myself right up to the emergency clinic.

I realize now that for me, this is normal. It is no small thing to end the life of a pet, even when you are doing it as a kindness to relieve suffering. Questioning my own judgment is not a bad thing.

Likewise, it is normal for me to look back and wonder if I made the decision at the right time. The only thing I refuse to dwell upon is “If I’d known then what I know now, the dog could have lived longer”. I didn’t know then what I know now just as I will (hopefully) know more in future. It’s not fair to judge my past decisions on when to euthanize against a standard of knowledge I did not possess at the time. I won’t beat myself up like that.

To get into some specifics, the dogs I’ve had to put to sleep have been Flatcoats. They have all been happy dogs who enjoy companionship but more than anything – food. I wish I could flatter myself by saying they valued my company more than life itself but that would be a lie. (Side note: I once took a nursing dam to the emergency Vet because she refused a meal. That’s how much my Flatcoats have loved food. Turns out, she had mastitis.) So one factor that has been useful for me in deciding when to euthanize is whether the dog can be enticed to eat. When we reach the point that food is consistently refused, I know that dog is miserable.

I have never been of the mind to go for extensive treatment when a pet is terminal or simply old. Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I don’t think that would change. My pets are like most people’s I would imagine – they don’t like going to the Vet and definitely wouldn’t like staying there for days. I can relate. I am a homebody and being at home gives me a sense of peacefulness and comfort. I think age increases the attachment to home and routines. I’ve been able to keep my pets at home until the final Vet visit was needed. I tend to think that would be their choice too, if they could be The Decider.

This is in no way meant to disparage owners who choose extraordinary measures and hospitalizations. Nor do I look down upon those who opt for a natural death, allowing the pet to starve himself or whatever the circumstances may be. We must each make the decision that is right for our situation and with our pet’s best interests in mind. Aside from something extreme (e.g. a pet who has been badly mangled by a car and the Vet gives little hope for survival even if the owner opts for heroic measures), I don’t think there are “wrong” end of life decisions for ailing pets. The best we can do is the best we can do.

One of the many things I’ve learned from my pets is to live in, and cherish, the moment. For me it’s question=yes, regret=no.

What has been helpful to you in deciding when the time is right to euthanize a pet?

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