Discuss End-of-Life Decisions with Your Veterinarian

Nov 14, 2016 / General Care / Grief Helpline / Cats / Dogs / Exotics

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Euthanasia is a tough and personal decision

Almost all pet owners at one point or another face the question of euthanasia. Dr. Gary Brummet, a veterinarian who provides primary care for pets at University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, talks about this difficult experience and addresses some common questions and concerns of owners.

“Euthanasia begins with a conversation between the owner and the veterinarian,” Dr. Brummet says.

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“No matter how many times a veterinarian has performed euthanasia, it is still one of the hardest parts of the job,” says Dr. Gary Brummet at the University of Illinois. “A veterinarian’s goal is to prolong life and heal patients, not to end life.”

It may be a single conversation or a discussion that spans multiple visits. The hardest question is knowing the right time to euthanize.

Consider Quality of Life

“It is a very personal decision,” Dr. Brummet emphasizes. “The timing has to be right not only for the pet but also for the owner. Many owners need to spend time adjusting to the idea and accepting it.”

Dr. Brummet urges owners to consider the pet’s quality of life. Is the pet happy? Does he have an appetite? Does he still recognize the owner?

There is also the owners’ quality of life to consider. Are the owners spending more time caring for the pet than caring for themselves? Can the owners afford the continuous care and treatment for their animal?

The owners are in the best position to answer these questions because they spend the most time with their pet. They will be most attuned to any decline in the animal’s quality of life.

Many owners wonder why their veterinarians won’t suggest euthanasia first.

“No matter how many times a veterinarian has performed euthanasia, it is still one of the hardest parts of the job,” Dr. Brummet says. “A veterinarian’s goal is to prolong life and heal patients, not to end life.”

However, relieving suffering is also an important value for veterinarians, as is supporting and respecting owners’ choices.

Emotional Impact on Owners and Veterinarians

Another concern owners have is that their veterinarian doesn’t appear upset during the procedure. Owners may think that the veterinarian doesn’t care about their pet.

Dr. Brummet explains that practitioners’ bedside manners are as varied as their individual personalities.

“Some clinicians are more reserved, both for routine checkups and for euthanasia appointments, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t great veterinarians and don’t value the life of the pet,” he says.

Other veterinarians may shed tears during euthanasias, either in front of the owner or discreetly in private afterwards. This is especially the case if the veterinarian has known the owner or pet personally, or if children are present for the procedure. Children’s grief can be very vivid and moving.

Once the decision to end a pet’s suffering has been made, the owners face additional choices. Do they want to stay with their pet during the procedure, or would they prefer to say their goodbyes and not witness the death. The right choice will depend on the owner’s relationship with the pet and the owner’s personality.

“Many veterinary clinics have a special room for euthanasia, as does the teaching hospital at our college,” Dr. Brummet explains. “The room typically looks more homey and less like an examination room, which helps to make the experience more comfortable for both the owner and the pet.”

Guilt and Grief

Some owners worry that they will feel guilty after euthanizing their pet. Dr. Brummet assures owners that it’s normal to feel guilty.

“It is a very tough and personal decision,” he says. “No one wants to do it too soon, but no one wants to look back and realize they waited too long.”

With pets living longer these days and owners developing a deeper bond with their animals, grief after euthanasia is becoming more pronounced.

“When the human-animal bond is very strong, losing a pet is akin to losing a family member,” Dr. Brummet explains. “Owners should never feel embarrassed about grieving for their pet.”

As with the loss of any loved one, grief is a normal part of the healing process. Allowing yourself time to grieve is important and healthy.

If you have more questions about euthanasia or want to know some ways to commemorate pets after their passing, consult your local veterinarian.

By Danielle Engel

Featured photo from Pixabay