So, how do you decide when "it's time?"
I'm not a believer in the "You'll just know" method. This hurts. Sometimes, you won't just know; sometimes you'll know, but don't trust yourself. Sometimes, an older dog is eating and wags his tail, but can't hardly walk around even with a lot of pain medication - is that time? Sometimes, an older cat is eating but can't keep anything down - is that time? Sometimes, a seemingly healthy dog can't control his urine or bowels - is that time?
Most people worry about taking away good time. I worry about that too. That said, I've never had anyone (myself included) regret making the difficult decision to euthanize "too soon." I have had many pet families regret waiting "too long."
Remember, euthanasia literately means, "A Good Death."
There are several methods out there to evaluate quality of life and help people make the decision. The first and most important thing to remember is that quality of life is about your pet AND your family. We have to maintain everyone's quality of life.
The two scales I use most commonly to help guide families are described below.
Option One - The "Good Day/Bad Day" Calendar
Put up a calendar on the refrigerator. At the end of the day, go with your gut - was today a "good day" or a "bad day?" Don't overanalyze it - trust your gut. Mark a G or B on your calendar. At the end of every week, look at the week before - do the good days still outnumber the bad days, or are they starting to equal each other? I usually recommend that we relieve a pet's pain when the good days equal the bad days.
Option Two - The "What Makes Fluffy, Fluffy"
Think of 5 things that make your pet who they are. Does Fluffy run to greet you when you get home each day from work? Does Fluffy ALWAYS pick out the green kibbles first? Does Fluffy always lay on the blue couch to watch TV? Does Fluffy always use the scratching post by the door several times a day? Does Fluffy always bark four times at the UPS man? Select 5 things that define who your dog or cat is, and watch those things. When your pet is no longer able to do 3 of those things, it may be "time."
Part of the difficulty in deciding it's time is saying "goodbye" to a dear friend. Part of the difficulty also stems from fear of the unknown. The next section of this post will describe the euthanasia process. Skip on if you'd rather not know.
To begin with, a BAH Veterinarian will meet with you, your family and your pet. If arrangements are made ahead of time, we can sometimes do this in the pet's favorite car or in the local park. We will talk about euthanasia, the process and what you can expect to see with your pet, given their specific health issues. Then, a pre-medication is given. This medication is a strong pain reliever and also a strong sedative. Our goal is that your pet passes peacefully, without fear and without pain. I want your pet's last memory to be of his loving family, with no pain. The actual euthanasia solution is an overdose of an anesthetic drug. We will never give this drug until you tell us that you are ready. Once given, the solution typically works very quickly and the pet drifts out. We try very hard to live up to the name "euthanasia" - a good death.
In final thoughts... I hear all the time, "I don't know how you can do this every day! I could never do it." The truth is, it's very hard. It's hard to say goodbye to pets we've seen since puppyhood. It's hard to see our clients in so much pain. And, as pet parents ourselves, it's hard to re-live the memories of our previous furry family members. The way we get through it is by remembering that we are giving the gift of a good death. We are relieving suffering and allowing pets to pass with dignity, in the arms of the family who love them.
Euthanasia is always a difficult topic to discuss, and even harder to experience. As always, if you are concerned about your pet's quality of life, please call us. We are here to help.