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When to Consider Euthanasia for Your Dog or Cat

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Posted January 07, 2014 in End-of-Life Support & Grieving Cats

The special relationship that exists between pets and people is a strong bond that has undoubtedly existed since the ancient domestication of animals, but it has only relatively recently been studied and fully appreciated for its emotional and physical benefits. Pets are an important part of our lives. They can influence who we are and add depth to our experiences. Increasingly, pets are not just animals who live with us but who also share our lives. They aren’t simply part of our routine. They are part of our family.

While we may nurture and care for our pets as we might care for children, it is important to realize that their life spans are much shorter than ours. We should absolutely cherish the precious years that we have with our pets, but should also be aware that we will have to make decisions that impact how their lives will be lived and how and when they will end. The responsibility can be overwhelming, and the decisions can be difficult to make. As our pets age, become sickly or they're unable to live full lives do we intervene? If so, when do we intervene? How do we intervene?  How far do we go to prolong life?   

Hospice care for dogs and cats
Put simply, there are two options to be considered when faced with sick pets: We can do nothing or we can do something. Doing something involves many possibilities, but can include diagnosis, treatment, supportive care or even just a quality-of-life euthanasia decision. Doing nothing is ignoring the problem, doing nothing to identify or alleviate your pet's distress. In my mind, doing nothing and letting nature take its course is avoiding our responsibility and is akin to neglect. I’m not saying that most of us wouldn’t wish for our pets what we would probably wish for ourselves: to live happily up until the last moment when we die quickly and peacefully in our sleep. Sadly, however, this is rarely the case. In addition the ‘doing something’ option is often a road full of twists and turns and intersections that we have to navigate on behalf of our four-legged friends.

End of life interventions can range from disease-specific, aggressive treatment to humane euthanasia. Supportive end of life hospice has become almost the norm for humans and at-home hospice care has become much more readily available as a means to transition.

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.

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