Written by Dr. Kari Trotsky with Peaceful Endings for Pets.
Being a veterinarian, it may surprise you to know I’ve been on the receiving end of a family member and later, a friend, telling me that it was time to euthanize my own pet. I felt angry and hurt they would imply that I’m holding onto my pet too long and allowing her to suffer. I believe they meant it in a caring way, but I still remember it to this day.
Three years ago, a friend who also happens to be a veterinarian, came over while I was at work to let my dogs out. My arthritic senior dog was walking in her normal, yet stiff gait in the morning, but had somehow injured her leg by the time my friend stopped by. She was limping pretty badly, and my friend told me I needed to consider euthanasia, however there was much more to the complete picture of my dog’s life. She didn’t see her walking stronger that morning, she didn’t know what medications my dog was taking, and she didn’t take care of my dog day in and day out. My sweet old girl is still alive today, and if I had listened to my friend’s advice, I would’ve made a mistake. This is what prompted me to write this message to the readers. If I wasn’t a veterinarian, would I have taken her advice?
I find that many people with an elderly or sick pet are given unwanted advice about when to euthanize. I believe these people have good intentions and are trying to help, however they haven’t been with that pet from the beginning. They haven’t tended to every need of the pet, ranging from medical care to nutrition to playtime, every day of its life. They are looking in from the outside. They may mean well, fully believing that everybody, when facing their pet’s death, will not make good decisions because they are too emotionally attached. And, while this may be true for some, I believe that the majority of pet owners will not let their pet suffer needlessly because they have a difficult time accepting the loss of the pet. Perhaps the more common scenario is that pet owners haven’t been given the right options for comfort care, including pain management, nutritional guidelines, and basic education on creating a safe home environment.
There are some pet owners who cannot see past their grief to make good decisions, and gentle discussions can help them know their inaction is causing more harm than good. And, there are pet owners who feel they are not looking at their pet objectively and seek advice from family, friends, or veterinary professionals. For the people who fully understand their pet’s situation, being on the receiving end of unsolicited advice can be very hurtful though.
You may be judged by others who see your pet as beyond all hope. You may even be judged by your veterinarian. There is still an opportunity to open up dialogue with your veterinarian to learn about their viewpoint and come to an understanding that protects the welfare of your pet (their patient) and aligns with your goals. Only you can make that ultimate decision, and if it’s not the right time for your pet, you have to speak up, especially with all the palliative medical options and hospice care now available. If someone does suggest you euthanize your pet, you should thank them for their genuine concern and let them know you will make that decision when you feel it’s right based on sound medical advice and intuition. Never feel pressured by anyone if you know it isn’t the right time. Check in with yourself from time to time and take a step back to make sure you are still being objective about the situation. Ultimately just remember it’s your pet and your decision to euthanize.