This is a subject of which I feel strongly. As an emergency veterinarian the patients that I see are often in very bad shape. The question I am frequently asked is, “Is he/she suffering? Should we just put him/her down?”. There are many variables that should be considered when making such an important decision.
The majority of the animals that come to me with acute injury can be fixed. However, there are other things to consider. One is the quality of life afterward and the long term prognosis. The guardian must be willing to put in the effort necessary to care for an animal during the recovery phase and must be willing to manage possible permanent injuries. Another consideration is expense.
Animals lack the self-pity and self-doubt that often holds us humans back enabling them to quickly adjust to permanent changes. It is very rare that I will recommend euthanasia because of the journey to healing that the animal will have to endure. I strongly believe that if you were able to ask any young, otherwise healthy, animal if he would like to be “put out of his misery” or would like the chance to fight for his life I bet he would choose to fight. We have advanced pain control these days that can make it tolerable for our pets.
On the other hand, if a pet is geriatric and has preexisting illness at the time he suffers a severe trauma or illness then it may be time to consider his quality of life. Geriatric patients have a more difficult time healing. But if it’s an old guy that had a great quality of life prior to his acute injury or illness then give him a chance!
Unfortunately, finances play a large role in this. Not everyone has $2,000-$6,000 to pay for the care necessary for severe injury or illness. It kills me to have the skills necessary to fix an animal but to have my hands tied by finances. That is why I founded my own non-profit foundation Healinghavenanimalfund.org. Smaller veterinary hospitals often work with clients in terms of payment plans, etc. The larger facilities, on the other hand, would be less likely to make concessions. These larger facilities have a much higher overhead and the majority of their patients need expensive care. Some of these hospitals have nonprofit funds to help guardians afford care for their pets so be sure to ask about it. Most accept care credit which is a credit card for health needs that can be applied for at the vet office. There are other resources such as IMOM.org, thepetfund.com, animalemergencyfund.org and redrover.org to name a few. When deciding if you can afford the care for your pet make sure you know the whole picture. They may give you an estimate for 24 hours but your pet may require more than that.
Chronic illness is a different story. When our pets are dealing with chronic illness we must consider the quality of life and the long term prognosis. If it is possible to manage your pet’s chronic illness and for him to continue to have quality life then it is not time to consider euthanasia, in my opinion. However, if your pet is having more bad days than good days, despite our best efforts, then it may be time to consider ending their suffering. Especially if the long term prognosis is grave. Our pets often give us signals that they are suffering such as refusing to eat, hiding, avoiding human interaction, and disappearance of their usual characteristics. Symptoms of pain may also be present such as crying, moaning, reluctance to move, panting, aggressive behavior and restlessness.
Euthanasia is by far the toughest part of my profession. However, I am grateful that I can be there to offer advice and support for my clients during these difficult times. I regularly see the extremes of those who give up too easily to those who can’t give up even though they should. So, please, when you come to this most difficult decision look into your pet’s eyes and ask yourself, “would he want me to ease his suffering or would he want the chance to fight for his life.” Often the look in our pets eyes gives us the answer.