URBANA, Ill. — One of the most difficult decisions a pet owner may face is whether to euthanize an ailing pet.
“When an animal’s quality of life is starting to deteriorate, a pet owner may consider if euthanasia is the right choice for this pet,” says Cheryl Weber, a licensed social worker and adjunct clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
She offers these perspectives on this extremely personal decision.
Understanding a pet’s condition is foremost, she says. A trusted veterinary professional may explain the medical diagnosis and outlook for the pet, discuss treatment options, and help evaluate whether the pet is in pain or suffering.
“Owners may talk with their veterinarian about quality of life issues to help clarify the disease process and any changes they are seeing at home with their pet. The veterinarian can explain how the disease may progress over time and what to expect,” explains Weber.
Behavioral changes that may indicate a decline in an animal’s quality of life include difficulty in eating or drinking, changes in mobility, and changes in normal interactions, such as a dog no longer greeting you at the door.
When an owner is approaching the final weeks or days with a pet, Weber suggests spending quality time with the pet, enjoying the time together. Something as simple as an extra car ride or special meal can mean a lot to both owner and pet.
“Take more photos or take a walk at a favorite spot. Let others know about the animal’s condition so they can visit with the pet too,” she says.
Weber invites owners to plan ahead for euthanasia if that is the right choice for their pet.
Decisions to anticipate include which veterinarian is desired to perform the procedure, whether the owner wishes to be present, and whether the pet will be buried or cremated. Some owners plan for a home euthanasia because it can be less stressful for the pet.
“Some people are surprised at how hard it is to lose a pet,” says Weber. “Owners should reach out for support from family and friends during this difficult time.” Weber suggests that owners seeking additional information and support seek out books, websites, and pet loss support groups in some communities.
“Making the decision to let go can be a gift of love to prevent suffering of a cherished companion,” says Weber.
The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine has a student-run telephone service called the CARE Pet Loss Helpline. The number is 217-244-2273, or 877-394-2273. The CARE website, vetmed.illinois.edu/CARE/, offers information on the grief process, supporting children experiencing grief, and ideas for memorializing a pet.
For more information on euthanasia or pet loss, speak with your veterinarian.