These conversations are one of the most challenging and unique aspects of veterinary medicine. We have the ability to decide when our pets, livestock, and horses are suffering and we have the choice to end it. On a weekly basis, and sometimes on a daily basis, we have the conversations with our clients about when it is time to say goodbye.
This is a very subjective topic but below is what I discuss with my clients. If your animal cannot check a majority of these boxes, then I am most likely to stand with the owner’s decision for euthanasia or I will suggest euthanasia as an option.
1. Is your animal eating and drinking normally?
One of the most easily noticed signs that animals have when they are not feeling well is that they will quit eating and then eventually quit drinking too.
Clients commonly ask me if their animal will just die on its own. Well the answer is yes, eventually, but that is very inhumane because they most likely will die of starvation or dehydration. I highly recommend not putting any animal through that.
2. Is your animal going to the bathroom normally?
Obviously, this is a huge deal. The vast majority of our clients keep their pets indoors, so when a pet becomes incontinent, that can be one of the highest ranking factors of what we are discussing today.
3. Is your animal’s attitude normal?
People who are very in-tune with their animals will pick this up right away. We have a lot of clients that bring their animal in saying that, “He’s just not acting like himself lately.” This can obviously mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Most people notice their animal become lethargic when they are sick.
Other things that aren’t necessarily a medical fix can occur, too, such as dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. These dogs essentially have dementia and can have severe attitude changes that may put the owners or other pets in the household in danger.
Sometimes an animal is not necessarily lethargic, but in a lot of pain and can no longer move like normal due to conditions such as osteoarthritis. This makes them no longer participate in activities and makes them seem like they sleep a lot more than usual.
4. Is your animal vocalizing more than normal?
We are pretty lucky with dogs and cats because they “talk” to us more than other species. Crying and whining in a pet that normally doesn’t make those noises is typically a sign of pain.
5. Is your animal in pain?
I would say this is the most common thing that owners are concerned about when they bring an animal in for an end-of-life discussion. We never want our pets, livestock or horses to be in pain.
Some owners are more astute to pain than others. In many animals, it can be very subjective and difficult to tell. There are a lot of good pain recognition charts in all species online that demonstrate facial expressions and body positions that indicate pain. Like the above, if your animal is vocalizing more, that could be a sign of pain.
6. Is it getting to be too much for you?
This is most likely the most subjective one on the list. For me, at the end of the day, I’m not the one living and caring for this animal. If the owner says it is getting to be too much to care for and several of these boxes are not being checked, then most likely euthanasia is a plausible option.
Dr. Lainie Kringen-Scholtz is associate veterinarian at Twin Lakes Animal Clinic in Madison, South Dakota.
This vet report is provided in conjunction with Twin Lakes Animal Clinic and Howard Animal Clinic. Questions? Send an email to Lainie Scholtz, DVM at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 605-256-0123, or write 45305 SD Highway 34 Madison, SD 57042.