- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
My wife put her arms around our beloved companion as a loving farewell, while the vet administered a humane injection. She held on as a friend of 17 years painlessly slipped into their final sleep. The hug, and rush of tears, then transferred to me and we held one another for a long time.
It’s never easy to say goodbye, and making the difficult decision about a pet’s passing is one of the hardest things a dog lover will face. In an age of scientific innovation and a multitude of options and opinions, it’s smart to start early and think about the future decision you’ll face.
When is euthanasia the best option? Don’t wait until old age or disease are at the doorstep; plan ahead in the early days and assess how you’ll want to handle the final day.
Facing the Facts About Pet Euthanasia
Let’s start with the basics: You may be best friends, but the difference in species means that, provided you’re healthy, you will outlive your four-legged friend. Giant breeds like wolfhounds and mastiffs often live only 7-8 years, and even the longest-lived like Chihuahuas and cockapoos average 16-18 years.
The romantic in you says the two of you will be together forever, but even with all our medical advancements, humans can’t cheat death, and neither can our canine counterparts. PetcareRx provides a helpful chart for average lifespan by breed. If you don’t raise your pet from the puppy stage, knowing their age and lifespan is an important foundation to build on.
Review the Reasons
Of course, health complications and disease can change the age game, so it’s important you don’t wait until the average lifespan. Quality of life may be impacted by a disease, an accident, or chronic pain. Although we shudder to think of it, we might also face a serious behavioural issue. Be aware life may bring you one of the following:
- Accidents: No dog lover can control everything, and no matter how safe you are, life can yield tragedy. Whether it’s a falling object or a run-in with a vehicle or another dog, one disastrous moment might yield an even harder decision. Your vet may humanely report that the best option for your buddy is a painless end to the suffering due to injury.
- Disease: Viruses like distemper—while they can be treated—often leave lifelong neurological damage. Larger and older dogs may suffer from degenerative joint disease, impacting everyday movement and activities. Regular vet visits help determine the severity or terminal nature of these conditions.
- Behaviour: It can never happen to you… right? Thankfully we live in an era when medications and animal research make euthanasia for behavioural issues far less common. In these rare cases, a human support group will be essential. People often feel guilty that they failed somehow and need wise and loving friends if this occurs.
- Cancer: There is chemotherapy for dogs and ways to put tumour growth into remission. Just as with humans, treatments contain their own suffering and impact quality of life. They are also expensive, so you’ll need to consider the cost (below).
Study the Signs
Petmd.com recommends monitoring five aspects of a pet’s life:
- Eating (adequate nutrition)
- Drinking (adequate hydration)
- Peeing (proper waste elimination)
- Pooping (incontinence, irregularity, blood in stool)
- Joy in Life (happiness in routines and activities)
Whether it’s old age or disease, a notable change in any of these may be a sign that the end is near. While each can be assisted with medical care, eventually they will catch up with your dog and you’ll need to begin weighing the quality of life. Other signs might include:
- Gums: If they aren’t pink, something may be wrong with their oxygen level.
- Forgetfulness: They seem lost or restless in familiar surroundings.
- Medication tolerance: It’s no longer helping with their pain.
- Hiding: You find them sleeping or cowering in unusual places.
- Intuition: Many dog lovers report they could just sense “it was time.”
In any of these cases, the next step is to consult a vet to confirm the condition or counter with a hopeful prognosis. In many of these cases, things might be done to prolong life—but at what price?
Consider the Costs
This isn’t a simple equation, but the reality is that medical care for things like tumours, organ replacements, and more can get expensive. It’s therefore a good idea to take out life insurance to cover you in the event that your pet needs expensive treatment. Of course the best insurance options may be more expensive but in the long run they could save you thousands. Find out more about 2020’s top insurance policies for dogs here.
If you knew the thousands you’d spend would give you a year—but only one more year—with your dog, would you spend it? Perhaps more importantly, and the hardest question to ask: Would that year be best for your beloved friend, or simply your difficulty in letting go? If the remaining months are filled with discomfort and pain, might euthanasia be the caring alternative?
Reflect on Your Own Inner State
These aren’t questions to be solved with a calculator or equation. These are individual matters of the heart. But we can use quantifiable means to help us make a heartfelt decision.
The Blue Cross website provides an end-of-life care FAQ that’s helpful, and vet, Dr. Jennifer Coates provides a heartfelt vet’s perspective.
Ultimately, those are the three things that we need to make a good decision about our dog: the tools to assess, facts and answers to our questions, and corroborating counsel. This will help when we face that day, and while we grieve over the goodbye, we can trust we’ve loved our dog in their passing as unconditionally as they loved us in their lifetime.