How to know when it is time

Dr. Shannon Holland

By Dr. Shannon Holland

22 Feb 2022

We love our pets and want what is best for them. That is why the hardest part of being a pet owner often comes as our pets age or they receive a terminal diagnosis. One of the most difficult decisions we make is deciding when to say goodbye.

There are many things to consider when it comes to our companions’ quality of life. “Quality of life” is something that we discuss a lot in veterinary medicine and it is an important part of your relationship with our pets. Quality of life refers to the standard of health, comfort and happiness experienced by our pets. A loss in quality of life can vary greatly. It could be due to new physical limitations or even mental issues–no two situations are the same.

What we have to keep in mind is that, unlike us, our pets do not think about what the future holds. They live in the present moment and find joy in what they are doing now. At the point where they can no longer enjoy the majority of things that they once did, we become concerned that their quality of life is no longer appropriate.

Signs of Diminished Quality of Life

When we discuss quality of life for animals we consider the following:

  • Is the animal in frequent or ongoing physical pain? This can manifest in a variety of behaviors like whimpering, frequent heavy breathing, aversion to touch, etc.
  • Does the animal have any other physical limitations? Examples of this include difficulty or inability to stand without assistance, blindness, or difficulty eating.
  • Does the animal have a diagnosed physical illness? The illness could affect any of these other categories and the illness’s severity will determine the impact on quality of life.
  • Is the animal showing signs of a deteriorating mental state? Are they showing frequent confusion or any drastic behavioral changes?

These are all things that we want to be aware of and manage appropriately. We need to try and realize when these issues get to the point where they can no longer be well managed.

All of these issues can be affected by the mental and physical state of the pet’s caregivers. We, as caregivers, are an important part of our pets’ joy and care. Our level of fatigue in giving care as well as our physical and emotional abilities are all valid and important considerations when evaluating quality of life.

Considering hospice or palliative care

When quality of life starts to diminish to the point where recovery is not feasible, hospice or palliative care may be an appropriate option. The exact methods are going to depend on the animal’s needs, but in general these are characterized by supportive care and pain management. Hospice and palliative care can be a way to maintain acceptable quality of life, and can last anywhere from a few days to even years.

The kind of care needed in this stage is highly individualistic. Schedule a consultation so that we can discuss what care is needed and appropriate.

Considering Euthanasia

When we can no longer maintain an acceptable quality of life for your pet, then it is appropriate to start considering humane euthanasia.

For some cases, it can be fairly obvious that it is time to schedule a euthansia, such as cases where there is significant pain that cannot be managed even with medication or a pet that can no longer move. Unfortunately, most cases are not so clear.

One activity that may help us come to a decision starts with making a list of 5-10 things that your pet has enjoyed in life. This can be anything such as playing in the yard, chasing a favorite toy, enjoying their favorite treats, etc. Once we have the list together we can cross off anything that they can no longer enjoy for whatever reason. When we get to the point where the majority of the list is crossed off then it is time to consider euthanasia. Our goal is to ensure that our pets live a life that they can enjoy. If the majority of those things that they enjoy are out of reach, then they will have more bad days than good moving forward, and waiting will only result in further loss of quality of life.

These decisions absolutely can and should be discussed with a veterinarian. Schedule a consultation if you are considering euthanasia.

Additional Resources

  • Ohio State University Quality of Life Questionnaire (Link): This is a worksheet that is meant to give a good snapshot of your pet’s quality of life.
  • Gray Muzzle App (for Apple or Android): This is an app for your phone that lets you track quality of life over time. This is intended to help you step back and take a big picture view of your pet’s condition.

Description of a euthanasia

Simply put, euthanasia is where we help your pet pass as peacefully as possible so that they no longer have to suffer. Being a mobile only clinic, the particular service that we at Holland Veterinary Services offer is an in-home euthanasia. We feel that performing the service at home provides the most comfort and ease for both our clients and patients as they can spend their final moments together in a place associated with comfort and family. However, mechanically it is a similar process to what is performed at a traditional brick-and-mortar veterinary clinic.

When we arrive, we set up in or around your residence in a place of your choosing that is comfortable for you and your pet. Typically, we will start with an injection that provides sedation. Once the patient is sedate, we will place an IV catheter that will be used to deliver the final medications. After the catheter is set, everything is ready. It is at this point that you or anyone wishing to spend additional time saying goodbye is free to do so with no rush. When everyone is ready, we use the catheter to administer anesthesia. Once they are fully under anesthesia, we proceed with with administering the final euthanasia solution. From the time we administer anesthesia to the end of the process usually takes 3-5 minutes. This can vary from patient to patient, but we will confirm that they have passed by listening to their heart.

After we have confirmed that they have passed we will begin providing after care. At no point during after care do we want anyone to feel rushed, so you can feel free at this point to stay with your pet as long as necessary and let us know when to move on to the next steps. Those next steps involve how remains will be handled. We partner with Pet Memories in Rockwall and offer both communal and private cremation. With both options we will handle removal of the remains from your residence and transport. The other option is to handle after care yourself. In this case we leave the remains at the residence and give advice on proper and legal means of disposal.

If you would like to discuss the process in more detail or have any questions regarding options, please feel free to reach out to us.

All of us here at Holland Veterinary Services realize that these sorts of decisions are very difficult. We only hope that we can equip you and your loved ones with peace of mind and comfort during the sunset season of your pets’ lives.

Photo by David Mullins on Unsplash