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Euthanasia: The Decision, The Guilt, The Gift

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No one likes to discuss euthanasia. It is a difficult, but necessary, part of veterinary medicine and, by far, the one that weighs the heaviest on the heart of both the owner and the veterinarian.
From the perspective of the veterinarian, you have to admit first to yourself that there is nothing further that you can do to save this pet’s life. You went to veterinary school. You studied incessantly and made good grades. You learned about every disease process known to the veterinary world, how they progress, and how to slow them down or cure them. You have practiced for many years. You have kept up with all of your required CE and have even attended classes that were not required because you wanted to save lives. You subscribe to all of the veterinary medical journals. You try to stay on the forefront of medicine, and you have saved countless lives when others said there was nothing more that could be done, but for this patient and this pet owner, you can’t save this life that is dependent on you and you alone. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
After you have resigned yourself to the reality of the situation, you now have to explain to your client that there is nothing you can do to stop the progression of whatever the condition is that is going to end their beloved pet’s life. This is extremely emotionally difficult for most clients, and you want to help them to understand the reasons and help them come to the decision that is kindest for their pet.
You explain the disease process and the inevitable outcome. You offer options and give your best recommendations as to how much time they have with their pet. You allow the owner to make the final decision because it is, in the end, their decision.
From the owner’s perspective, they usually have had no idea that the pet was sick. They had acted normally until recently except for eating a little less or perhaps just acting a little more sluggish. They typically have no idea that there has been a disease process at work for months or possibly even years before that day. They had always brought their pet in when they were sick with minor ailments. They have always had the recommended vaccines done and given preventatives for heartworms and parasites. They had maybe declined blood work or x-rays a few times because of financial reasons, but the pet had always been healthy.
Today, when they get the horrible news, they start to second guess those past decisions. Could we have known sooner? Would the outcome be different if we had known? What if I had fed them differently or what if we had done the testing every time it was offered? Why didn’t I see this was happening to my pet? Why couldn’t I tell a difference? Am I a bad pet parent? Did I cause this?
At CHAI we do not like to look backward at the past decisions of pet owners in judgement. We try to focus on education, understanding and the future. Yearly diagnostics are recommended in order to catch something early so that we have the best chance of keeping your pet with you for as long as is possible, but even with diagnostics and early onset medical care, there is no 100% certainty that a given disease won’t progress. Yes, there are many things that we can do to slow down many disease processes if they are diagnosed early enough, but in some cases, the disease is too relentless for even the most knowledgeable veterinarian to contain.
We also understand that preventative care is where we should focus, but the reality is that most people can’t afford in-depth diagnostics every year for their pet. We believe that the basics, good nutrition and a life as free of chemicals as possible, are the building blocks of a long and healthy life for your pet, however, genetics also play a role in the onset of disease.
We have all suffered the loss of a pet who we adored, and we empathize with every pet parent who faces this tragedy. There is no going back to a day a person has already lived and changing decisions that were made. While guilt is inevitable regardless of what was done or not done in the past, we try to make every pet parent understand that all that really matters is today going forward.
Once the prognosis is determined, the options are defined, the information is shared with the client, and a treatment plan is established, it is usually recommended that they go home in order to have time to process through it all. We stay in close contact to answer questions and help in any way we can until the time comes when the inevitable decision must be made and the euthanasia scheduled.
This is the day that will forever live in the mind of a pet parent. This is the day that you will last interact in this life with this pet. Everything that is done on this day will be replayed over and over in the memory of this pet parent, and we at CHAI want this to be the most peaceful and cherished day possible.
We try to focus on the love that was shared between this pet and their people.
The procedure is physically simple but emotionally difficult for everyone involved. Anesthetic drugs are administered IV to allow the pet to gently and peacefully fall asleep with its’ family, including the other pets when possible, there with them, until their heart slowly stops.
Ending the suffering of a precious animal is a difficult part of both veterinary medicine and pet ownership. One has dedicated their lives to healing and the other has given their heart to a companion that only shows love and acceptance to them. Both have the best interest of the pet at heart in all that they do.
Although it can be difficult to comprehend, euthanasia, for a terminally ill pet who is suffering, can be the last gift you are able to give to them.
Copyright: pavelshlykov / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: Steven Stiefel

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