Pet Talk: Euthanasia a difficult choice for pet owners

Pet Talk: Euthanasia a difficult choice for pet owners

By Sarah Netherton

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

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," said Cheryl Weber, a licensed social worker and adjunct clinical assistant professor at the UI Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. She offers these perspectives on this extremely personal decision.

Understanding a pet's condition is foremost, she said. 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," Weber said. "The veterinarian can explain how the disease may progress over time and what to expect."

Behavioral changes that may indicate a decline in an animal's quality of life include difficulty 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. 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," she said. "Let others know about the animal's condition so they can visit with the pet, too."

Weber invites owners to plan ahead for euthanasia if that is the right choice. Decisions to anticipate include which vet 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 home euthanasia to lower the pet's stress levels.

"Some people are surprised at how hard it is to lose a pet," Weber said. "Owners should reach out for support from family and friends during this difficult time."

She suggests that owners seeking additional information and support seek out books, websites and pet-loss support groups in communities.

The UI College of Veterinary Medicine has a student-run telephone service called the CARE Pet Loss Helpline at 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.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/. Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy, beuoy@illinois.edu.

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