Euthanizing A Beloved Family Pet
EUTHANIZING THE FAMILY PET
For many people, pets are beloved family members. We know their lives are shorter than ours but still don't like to think of their dying before us. For most, the ideal situation would be their dog or cat living a long, healthy life and passing away in its sleep. In reality this is often not the case, with owners having to make the hard decision to euthanize their friend and companion. Three of the most common reasons to euthanize revolve around age and illness.
1. Acute illness/trauma. This can be the most devastating situation for a pet owner who may be forced to make an on the spot decision. One moment their pet appears fine, but suddenly becomes ill or is injured too severely to be treated. One example is hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels where dogs can bleed internally and die within a very short space of time without their owner having known anything was wrong.
2. Chronic illness. Owners of pets with chronic illness have more chance to think about life expectancy as they have been dealing with, and treating, a known disease. Gradually they find that they reach a point where treatment is no longer helping, disease is progressing or quality of life is declining. Examples include diabetes, Cushing's disease, heart disease and cancer.
3. Old age. Advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in cats and dogs living much longer lives. For senior pets, age related issues can have a significant impact, with quality of life gradually deteriorating as, for example, mobility, vision, and appetite decline.
Euthanasia is a tough subject to discuss, but it is better to think about it in advance rather than when suddenly faced with a crisis. Pet owners should have an idea of what they would do and how far they would go, both medically and financially. For those with chronic illness or who are elderly, a list should be made of things that constitute quality of life (for example ability to walk, be pain free, able to eat and drink, tolerate medications, interact with people and animals and generally be interested in their environment). The pet should be assessed regularly against this list and changes noted, as with chronic problems a pet can deteriorate gradually and go unnoticed by owner. Having a list can provide a stopping point.
There is often guilt associated with euthanasia, people questioning if they could have done more, or did too much. It is important to realize that this is one of the five steps of the grieving process. These steps include denial, anger and blame, bargaining to try to put off the inevitable, depression and eventually acceptance of the loss and ability to move on. This process can occur before death for pets with a chronic or terminal disease, or after death in the case of unexpected loss. As the value of pets in society has increased, so have the resources available to help grieving pet owners. These include friends, online and local support groups, church leaders and specialist grief counselors. Grieving owners are encouraged to take advantage of these resources to help them move towards acceptance of their pets loss.
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