Additional Pet Euthanasia Guidance
RISKS OF WAITING TOO LONG
It is never easy to determine “when is it time to put your dog down” or “how will you know when it’s time to put your cat to sleep,” and there is no perfect answer. Our sincere emotions are oftentimes pitted against the unwelcome reality of the situation. There is no scientific equation to use, so every answer, whether from a veterinarian or yourself, has some level of subjectivity.
While you do not want to feel guilty after euthanizing your pet thinking that you should have waited or could of done something more for them, you also do not want to wait too long and risk an emergency situation. If you wait too long, your pet might need immediate medical attention for issues such as difficulty breathing, yelping in pain or having a seizure.
Watching your pet seize uncontrollably, seeing them gasping for air or hearing them scream in pain are horrifying moments and terrible final memories. This is a hard truth to accept, but these are the real experiences that you may face. One of the most common wishes of a pet parent is for their pet to die in their sleep. What most pet parents don’t realize is that a peaceful natural death is extremely rare. The overwhelming majority of pets who die naturally usually experience one or more of the issues outlined above.
Even worse, they might have to endure one of those issues alone while you are sleeping at night or away at work during the day. A common misconception is that if you weren’t there while they passed away, it must of been peaceful. The honest truth is that they likely struggled in pain and experienced fear in their final moments. If you happen to be with them, the process of getting them euthanized in time is extremely stressful. Your pet will still have to endure the pain of their current medical emergency, while you anxiously rush to get them medical attention.
A planned euthanasia ensures your pet will pass without pain, suffering or fear. It will also ensure they can pass in a comfortable and peaceful setting. Family members can plan ahead, so everyone can say their final goodbye before the euthanasia or be with them throughout the actual procedure. With an emergency euthanasia, family members might not have the opportunity to say their last goodbye. The process is usually not comfortable nor peaceful for your pet and any family members in attendance.
Any pet parent who has gone through an emergency euthanasia will tell you it was not worth the limited amount of extra time with their pet, and that in hindsight, they feel selfish for not euthanizing them sooner. As a final word of advice, it is always better to make the decision to euthanize a day too early rather than a second too late. No matter how long we have spent with our furry family members, it will never feel like enough time. The best thing that we can do is help them pass peacefully surrounded by everyone who loves them.
QUALITY OF LIFE CATEGORIES
It is very common for your pet’s mobility to decrease as they age. Signs to look for include: falling, shaking, heavily panting, difficulty sleeping or trouble going to the bathroom. These signs can be more prevalent at night as evidenced by them pacing around the house. This is usually a result of them not being able to go to sleep due to joint pain or not being able to use stairs to get to their usual sleeping area. If they are unable to get comfortable, they can become very anxious, which leads to pacing or heavy panting.
Arthritis is the most prevalent issue related to a decline in mobility. Luckily, there are many solutions to treat arthritis and subsequently improve mobility. Supplements such as fish oil can decrease inflammation at the source, which directly treats the problem. Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Fish Oil supplements for pets is a great product that is very easily applied to your pet’s food (they usually like the taste too which is a bonus). Acupuncture and laser therapy can also improve your pet’s mobility by directly decreasing inflammation around their joints. The effectiveness of these options increase when they are applied earlier in the arthritis process.
Pain medications can also be used to alleviate your pet’s joint pain. As opposed to treating the problem of arthritis directly by decreasing inflammation, pain medications simply treat the symptom of pain caused by the joints. When used in combination with the other options listed above, mobility can significantly increase for many pets.
Environmental changes are another option that can improve your pet’s mobility. Putting rugs or floor mats over any hard/slippery flooring (especially stairs) can make your pet more comfortable and confident when moving around your home. Providing them with easy access to their food and water is also very important. If you live in a house with stairs or a lot of rooms, it would be worthwhile to have multiple food and water bowls on each level or in different parts of your house.
As a general note, it is important to keep your pet active, so their joints stay loose. Short walks and low impact activities should be part of their daily routine to prevent their joints from getting stiff. If medications, supplements and other medical treatments are not effective or stop working, their quality of life will be negatively impacted.
A decrease in food consumption is a very serious sign relating to your pet’s health. While some pets never lose their desire to eat even right before passing, other pets who do lose their appetite may indicate an underlying medical issue, including organ failure. A decline in eating can be categorized into 3 stages:
Stage 1 – Your pet is eating less of their normal food. They are still eating their pet food but just not as much.
Stage 2 – Your pet has to be enticed to eat their normal food. They will still eat their pet food, but only when mixed with treats or “people food.” Sometimes they might only eat treats or “people food” without eating any of their regular pet food.
Stage 3 – Your pet has stopped eating. They will not eat any food, even “people food” or their favorite treats, and they cannot be enticed to eat.
Even though a loss of appetite or a decrease in your pet’s normal eating patterns may be a serious sign of organ disfunction, there are medications that can be prescribed to help restore appetite for a period of time. There are also medications that can alleviate other symptoms, such as nausea, that may be causing a decrease in appetite.
It is important to keep in mind though that these are only temporary solutions focused on improving your pet’s “quality” of life rather than extending their “quantity” of life.
Your pet’s water consumption can decrease or increase based on their health condition or disease process. You should closely monitor their water intake in order to observe any irregularities. Any change in their normal drinking can be a sign of serious illness or organ issues.
If your pet is drinking more water than usual, that can be a sign of a wide variety of issues, with the most common being diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or Cushing’s disease. In order to determine if there is an issue correlated to the increase in water consumption, blood work should be done. Based on the findings with the blood tests, medications can be prescribed to treat the disease.
If your pet is drinking less water than usual, that typically indicates a more serious form of diabetes, kidney disease or other organ disfunction. Many of those disease processes increase certain blood values, which causes your pet to be nauseous and drink less water. Blood work is definitely recommended to diagnose any underlying issues, so treatment can be provided.
Your pet’s interaction with other family members or pets is a subjective factor that can be used to help determine their quality of life. You can observe 4 different areas of interaction:
- How they interact with you or other family members.
- How they react to your interactions with them.
- How they interact with other pets.
- How other pets interact with them.
If they usually like being around everyone or in the same room as you but no longer follow you around the house or lay in the same room as you, that can be a sign of their declining health or happiness. If they start hiding from you or trying to get out of the house, that can be a sign of a very serious health problem. Animals instinctually remove themselves from their “pack” when they are dying in order to protect their family from predators. Cats in particular are known to start fighting with each other. The healthy cat(s) will attack a sick cat in an attempt to get them to leave the “pack” in order to ward off any predators.
More noticeable signs of interaction issues can include your pet getting angry at another pet or even a family member by snapping or growling at them. This is usually a sign that they are in pain and experiencing discomfort that makes them irritable or highly sensitive to things that normally would not bother them.
You may notice signs in your other pets as well. You can see if other pets are interacting with them differently or leaving them alone when they usually try to play with them. Sometimes pets that usually do not get along will be seen laying next to each other. This atypical behavior is usually a sign that your other pet can sense something is wrong with them.
To help with any interaction issues, medications can be prescribed to alleviate pain or discomfort. You should try to be with them wherever they are at, so they can stay comfortable where they are without having to get up and move. You can also separate other pets from them to decrease irritability.
Accidents in the house are not uncommon for older pets. They are not always a sign of a medical issue. However, eliminating in the house can create anxiety for pets who have been house trained and can also create other issues such as infections.
If your pet is not mobile, it is important to keep them and their resting areas as sanitary as possible to prevent infections or urine scolding (acid from urine sits on the skin and creates a sore). Pet diapers can be used to mitigate these issues if they are changed in a timely manner. If your pet is mobile and eliminating in the house, that can be a sign of a treatable medical condition, so they should get examined by a vet. If they are not going to the bathroom at all for a prolonged period of time, that is a sign of an underlying issue that should also be addressed by a veterinarian.
Accidents in the house or issues getting up to go potty are NOT usually signs of a poor quality of life, unless your pet is also experiencing serious anxiety or their resting area is not staying clean. Pee pads around the house can be used to decrease anxiety in order to help pets who have mobility issues or pets that struggle with holding their bladder for long periods of time.
It is also important to keep in mind the quality of life for pet parents and the physical or emotional toll this might be having on a household. The entire family is usually affected. The impacts from elimination issues can damage the relationship with your pet, which can negatively effect their quality of life. When considering your pet’s quality of life, the elimination category is often one of the most subjective factors that should be discussed as a family unit.
Your pet’s interest is another subjective category that should be discussed with the entire family. You can look at your pet’s interest levels in two separate categories:
- Their behavior to things that usually make them happy.
- Their behavior to things that usually make them upset.
If they stop showing interest in things they enjoy, such as playing with toys, going for car rides or taking a walk, that can be a sign of their declining quality of life. Even if they have mobility issues, they can still show interest by wagging their tail or showing other signs of excitement. They can also still do things that make them happy at an abbreviated level, such as putting a ball in their mouth even if they can’t chase after it. Those are still signs of interest and happiness.
If they stop showing interest in things they do not like, such as the doorbell ringing, the mailman walking by or loud noises, that is usually a more serious sign of their declining quality of life. If they stop reacting to things that make them anxious or upset, that typically indicates they are in too much pain or discomfort to do anything.
As a general guide, losing interest in things that usually make your pet upset is more serious than them losing interest in things that usually make them happy. There are not many options to stimulate interest, with the exception of diagnosing any underlying medical issues and treating those disease processes in order to alleviate any pain or discomfort.
QUALITY OF LIFE EXPLANATION
Your pet’s quality of life is usually the main topic of discussion when deciding whether to put them down or start hospice care for them. So what is quality of life? In the most simple terms, this phrase refers to the level of happiness or suffering your pet experiences on a daily basis. However since we cannot ask our pets how happy they are or if they are suffering, we must evaluate factors that can help us make those determinations. You can examine the 6 factors outlined in our Pet Euthanasia Quiz, which are: mobility, eating, drinking, interaction, elimination and interest in order to determine a pet’s level of pain versus comfort.
A veterinarian can also offer their insights and guidance with a Quality of Life Consultation. If a certain amount of pain is assessed, we can conclude they are suffering. If a certain amount of comfort is assessed, we can conclude they are happy. Based on the severity of your pet’s pain or the extend of their comfort, a veterinarian can determine whether hospice care is an appropriate option to help them maintain a good quality of life or whether euthanasia is the best option.
ADDITIONAL QUALITY OF LIFE ASSESSMENT ACTIVITY
A picture is worth a thousand words. This saying holds true when trying to determine your pet’s quality of life and whether you should consider putting them to sleep. If you have taken our Pet Euthanasia Quiz and are still uncertain if you should euthanize your pet, it is often helpful to look at previous photos of them. Sometimes you don’t notice changes to their physical state when you see them every day.
When you compare their most recent healthy photos to how they look now, can you see a major difference? Do you think they still look happy? It might be hard to notice how their illness or disease process has effected them, but comparing how they look now next to a previous photo from when they were healthy might give you some indication into their current condition. This is more of a subjective activity, but it can help you reflect on any changes you may not have noticed otherwise.
Hospice care is an option to provide more comfort and pain relief for pets with a terminal illness. This type of care will not cure a disease, but rather treat your pet’s symptoms to relieve their pain and better their quality of life during the limited time they have left. Comfort measures include alleviating pain with medications, making nutritional changes, giving subcutaneous fluids, managing incontinence and aiding mobility.
A large part of hospice care is also focused on educating pet parents on their pet’s specific illness or disease process. When pet owners have a better understanding of the disease cycle or how an illness progresses, they can offer them more individualized care and prepare for what lies ahead. Gaining a better overall understanding of the situation can help pet parents come to terms with their pet’s health and find closure. When the time comes, pet owners will also know what signs to look for and have more clarity when deciding when it’s time to put their dog or cat down.
Pet euthanasia is a painless procedure performed by a veterinarian. If you cannot bring your pet into an animal hospital or prefer the peace and privacy of your own home, a mobile vet cat travel to your house to put your pet down in your home. At VIP Vet Visit, we provide at home pet euthanasia services in Orland Park, Illinois (and other neighboring southwest Chicago suburbs), as well as house call hospice care and in home quality of life consultations.
The biggest additional resource you have is your veterinarian. Their knowledge and experiences can help guide you in making the best decision for your pet. A Quality of Life Consultation with them can be done at their veterinary clinic or you can have a mobile vet go to your house. A veterinarian will not only educate you on your pet’s current health, but they will provide you with all of your options and offer you valuable guidance on how to decide on what to do next.