This is a very difficult subject for a blog but I feel it’s one of the most important things I can write about. Deciding on the right time to let your much loved pet go at the end of a wonderful life is something all of us find incredibly difficult – (and yes that includes me and my family).
Towards the end of my patients’ lives my job as a vet often becomes one of providing palliative care. This means I assess pain levels, prescribe pain killing and other drugs and offer care advice to help keep my patients happy and ensure they have a quality of life.
And of course as a mobile vet I’m in a great position to do this since I see your pets in their own home. By observing my patients’ behaviour in their natural environment I can tell a huge amount about their quality of life.
For example if a dog pricks his ears and wags his tail when his owner walks in the room, and is excited when his owners offers him a tasty bowl of food these are good signs he is still enjoying life. These signs are hard to assess in a busy vet surgery.
He can’t be in pain because he’s not crying
A lot of owners say to me that they don’t think their dog or cat is in pain because they are not crying out or whimpering. It’s important to realise that our pets often show pain by just withdrawing from life. For example, they might decide they don’t want to go for walks, they might stop eating their favorite foods or they might simply stop the tail wags you when you get home.
I think it’s also useful to know that pain is not the only issue when it comes to making this right decision. Some chronic diseases like kidney disease result (in the later stages) in your pet feeling incredibly ill and sick all the time (like if you have food poisoning or the day after a really big night). When a pet feels like this all the time their quality of life is very poor.
So when should we decide to let go?
I am a strong advocate for ensuring our pets’ quality of life is acceptable. For me the gold standard and benchmark is no suffering at all, as our pets simply cannot consent to prolonged and traumatic palliative care.
But of course we owe to our pets and ourselves not to let them go too early and for them to miss out on quality time.
Often the best way for us to make the decision is to try to take all our emotional attachment out of the picture and purely look at our pet’s life from their point of view. Are they really happy most of the time? Are they engaged with life? Are they able to eat, drink and go to the toilet without pain? Are they still interested in their favourite things? Are they pleased to see you when you come home? If you keep answering No to these questions you might need to think carefully about whether you’re doing the right thing by delaying the decision.
Don’t forget this is not a decision you have to make on your own. At VETaround we’re here to help. We’re experts in the field and by observing your pet carefully at home and chatting with you we’ll help you make the right decision at a difficult time.
To learn more about how we look after your pet on his final day please see this page on our website about pet euthanasia at home and if you have any questions, as always, we’re only a phone call away.