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When Enough is Enough: The Tough Decision to Euthanize a Pet

No decision is harder for pet owners than determining that a beloved pet’s quality of life has declined to the point where euthanasia is the last humane option available.

It is nearly impossible to remain objective during such difficult times, but the pets in our lives are relying on us to do just that. Thankfully, evaluating quality of life does not have to be as vague an endeavor as it might sound. A simple, five point process removes some of the uncertainty.

  1. Eating – Dogs (but less so cats) do not necessarily suffer when they stop eating for a short period of time. However, when their poor appetite continues for more than four or five days or is associated with significant weight loss, the body is no longer getting the nutrition it needs to maintain itself.
  2. Drinking – Inadequate water intake quickly leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and suffering. Pets that stop or significantly reduce their water intake need a veterinary evaluation as soon as possible.
  3. Urination – Low urine output can be a sign of dehydration, advanced kidney failure, or even a blockage of the urinary tract.
  4. Defecation – Reduced production of feces is often associated with inadequate food intake or constipation.
  5. Enjoyment – This last category is certainly the hardest to evaluate. Owners should look back to times when their pet was in good health and make a list of a few things that the animal did on a regular basis and/or truly enjoyed. Examples might include greeting people at the front door, going for a walk around the block, or basking in a sunny chair. When the pet no longer displays most of these behaviors, it is safe to assume that he or she is no longer taking much joy in life.

Remember that quality of life is a roller coaster. A series of bad days may bring you to the brink of euthanasia, only to be followed by a really good day that makes you question your ability to know when to proceed. Waiting until a pet’s suffering is intense or nearly continuous certainly makes the decision to euthanize an obvious one, but the goal of euthanasia should be to prevent rather than relieve suffering. When a pet’s quality of life is poor and there is no reasonable expectation for meaningful improvement, euthanasia (or hospice care) is warranted.

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