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End Of Life Decisions

 Old Pug Being Held

Advances in veterinary medicine and preventive care are helping pets live longer and healthier lives.  Generally, the longer the relationship, the stronger the bond.  The stronger the bond, the more challenging it is to consider the end of a pet's life, including the difficult decisions around euthanasia.  Although it is heart-breaking to think about the fact that our pets’ lives are usually shorter than our own, thinking about your pet’s eventual need for euthanasia and making a plan ahead of time can relieve much of the stress associated with decisions made when end of life is near.

"Making a plan ahead of time will relieve much of the stress associated with decisions made when end of life is near."

How will I know when euthanasia is the most appropriate and humane option for my pet?

Open and honest dialogue with your veterinarian throughout a pet's life lays the foundation for effective communication when that pet's life begins to draw to a close.  At some point, most pets will develop a life-limiting disease (such as organ failure or cancer).  As soon as such a diagnosis is made or as your pet reaches senior years (and presents odd behavior), it is time to begin measuring the pet's quality of life. 

 Orange tabby being examined by vet

Quality of life is a fairly subjective concept, which is why Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinary oncologist, has created a quality-of-life scale to help pet owners assign some objective scores to everyday aspects of their pet's life (see “Quality of Life Scale”).  This quality-of-life scale helps us identify trends over time—specifically, declining quality over days and weeks.  Your veterinarian will be better equipped to help you identify the right time for euthanasia if you keep them informed about the day-to-day details of your pet's life at home.  Discussion with your veterinarian will clarify any specific medical implications of your pet’s disease that can serve as benchmarks to suggest that euthanasia should be considered.

Some recommended quality-of-life-related questions might include:

  • What disease signs and symptoms will I see that will let me know it is time for euthanasia?
  • What day-to-day activities will disappear from my pet’s routine?
  • How will I measure day-to-day quality of life?
  • How often will I measure quality of life?
  • How often will I discuss quality-of-life trends with my veterinary healthcare team?
  • Which categories on the quality-of-life scale will be the most important for my pet?

Where will euthanasia happen?

Most often, euthanasia is provided at the clinic or in your home.  In general, the location can be left to the discretion of the family.  If you choose euthanasia at home, we usually need notice so we can give you and your pet the comfort and time required during such a precious moment.  During shorter days (Saturdays and Sundays) and evenings, we have limited staff and are not able to provide this service.  For more information about in-home euthanasias, please contact us.

If we are not available, there are house-call veterinarians who dedicate their entire practice to providing in-home euthanasia services.  Veterinary professionals can help you, your family, and your pet to be quite comfortable at this challenging time.

What should I consider or plan for regarding what will happen after my pet's passing?

There are a number of questions that should be asked and answered in preparation for the approaching death of your beloved pet.  Some examples include:

 Old German Shepherd
  • Do I want to keep my pet's ashes?
  • Do I want to keep a memorial, such as a lock of hair or a copy of my pet's footprint?
  • What should I do if my pet dies on his or her own?  How will my pet's body be transported after death?

By having a detailed plan in place ahead of time, you may feel a sense of quiet or peace that will allow you to focus on the remaining time you and your pet will share.

"The veterinary healthcare team will be an important partner as you negotiate the difficult days and decisions leading up to your pet's death."

The veterinary healthcare team will be an important partner as you negotiate the difficult days and decisions leading up to your pet's death.  It is important to communicate your wishes clearly so that they can be honored appropriately.  A bit of planning can make this challenging event a little less painful.

My spiritual beliefs prevent me from actively or willingly ending an animal’s life. Because I will not consent to euthanasia, how can a discussion of euthanasia benefit my pet and me?

"It is certainly possible to honor spiritual beliefs that prevent euthanasia while still providing and delivering appropriate pain management and comfort care."

In this scenario, speaking with your veterinarian about your pet's approaching end of life is even more important.  It is certainly possible to honor spiritual beliefs that prevent euthanasia while still providing and delivering appropriate pain management and comfort care.  In this case, your veterinary healthcare team may need to be a bit more involved in measuring quality-of-life trends to prevent your pet from suffering unnecessarily.

If you have recently lost a pet, WSU offers a grief and loss hotline: www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/pet-loss-hotline

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

© Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

We have modified it to fit Lien Animal Clinic's views and guidelines. 2018