There are more than 59% of American households with pets and, in the last several decades, they have taken more of a position as a family member and less as property, not only in the eyes of pet owners but in society as a whole. A pet’s death can be a very traumatic and painful time for owners but it’s also a very personal time. Having to say goodbye to your best friend in a cold and sterile environment, in front of strangers, only adds to the pain and suffering. Home is the best place for goodbyes. It gives comfort and privacy and removes the anxiety for both the pet and its owner. In-home euthanasia services can cost up to $250 with an extra transportation fee of about $50 if the pet owner is located out of a designated service area. If a pet owner wants cremation services as well, that cost will be extra. But keep in mind that a pet owner may pay more if they make an emergency trip to an all-night veterinary hospital. The exact number of pets who are put down at home each year is unknown but veterinarians are making euthanasia house calls now more than ever.
Deciding on in-home euthanasia is only part of the equation and, though stressful as it is, knowing when the right time to euthanize is equally as stressful. Never is this more truthful than with first time pet owners. The moral issue of whether or not we have the right to intervene with the natural order of things raises its nasty head. There is the feeling of guilt and the dread of anticipatory grief that further cloud our decision- making. This, therefore, makes euthanizing a pet an individual decision based on one’s sense of what is right for them and their pet. When becoming a pet owner, we agree to take on the responsibilities of being our pet’s life steward. It is a big responsibility and, like children, our pets didn’t come with a set of instructions, however, the following guide may be of some help in deciding whether or not to euthanize your pet.
The first and most important thing to keep in mind is the quality of life for your pet. Ask yourself if your pet still enjoys his daily activities such as going for a walk, greeting you when you come home, sitting with you in your quiet times, does he still play with a favorite toy and enjoy interacting with the family? A cat, on the other hand, can be a little more difficult when it comes to deciding when to euthanize as their species are masters at hiding disease and they are more stoic. If a cat displayed illness or a weakness in the wild, they would become prey. This is why it is important to watch your cat more closely when evaluating him. Things you may want to watch for are his grooming habits; is he still grooming; does he seek out your affection and attention or is he hiding away? Take a moment to think about the things that upset your pet’s well-being. Do they include boredom, isolation, pain, being picked on by other animals in the home? Are they able to perform and carry out normal bodily functions such as walking, eating, drinking and eliminating? Is your pet in pain and, if so, do you know the source and is he on medications to alleviate the pain? What is the pet’s medical prognosis, viable treatment options available and can you afford them? Make sure you have all the information you need to help you make the best decision possible.
If your pet is having difficulty breathing, suffering pain due to respiratory distress and is just living to breathe, there is no quality of life. If they are having problems resting and sleeping, many pet will need to sit up with their front legs extended out from their chest in order to open up their chest capacity, there is no quality of life and care should not be continued. Humane pet euthanasia is indicated in these circumstances. Relieving pain is the number one component in a pet’s quality of life. For pets with arthritis, using a Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDS), which block the pathways of pain and inflammation with fewer side effects such as peptic ulcers, is helpful. Veterinarians have access to drugs used in pain management that are not available without prescription so consult your veterinarian to get the appropriate pain drug combination for your pet. Pets with cancer usually have severe pain at night because, as tumors grow, they impinge on and stimulate local tissue receptors or cause tissue damage and inflammation.
If the pet is older and more prone to infections, proper nutrition is vital in keeping a functioning immune system so it is important to monitor their food intake and weight. When an animal losses 10% or more of its body weight in a 3-5 day period, supplemental tube feeding may be necessary. Pets with a chronic disease or cancer suffer from cachexia or a wasting syndrome in which protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism is changed and the animal losses weight, muscle mass and appetite. An optimal diet, in this case, is one lower in simple carbohydrates and higher in proteins and fat but consult you oncologist for recommendations. Pets need an adequate intake of fluids, one ounce fluids per pound of body weight on a daily basis. If the pet isn’t getting the proper intake, subcutaneous fluid supplementation may be needed to keep them hydrated. Owners can be taught to administer sterile electrolyte balanced fluids with ease by their veterinarians. Proper hygiene is important to the well-being of the pet, especially cats. Acute moist dermatitis can result if excrement and urine are not cleaned from the pet. A pet’s happiness is important to its quality of life and if the pet seems isolated, afraid or non-reactive with the rest of the family, create interaction and events of enjoyment. Move them closer to where the family interacts; pet them, talk to them and play with them. Mobility is a challenge for larger breeds of dogs. In order to keep them from developing recumbent pneumonia and bed sores, they must be rotated or moved every two hours. Sadly, immobility is the most common reason for humane pet euthanasia. If a pet has more than 3-5 bad days in a row and is under palliative care, quality of life is lowered and humane pet euthanasia should be considered.
For many, after agonizing over the decision and their pet is gone, they still have remaining feeling of guilt and doubt. They question the veterinarian and themselves about having done the right thing or perhaps waiting longer and maybe they should have tried something else. Don’t do this as it will rob you of your confidence and turn your precious memories into pain. Remember, the decision you made to euthanize your pet came out of love and caring. Your pet would tell you this if they could so go easy on yourself; you did good.