During my veterinary career, I’ve been called upon numerous times to provide end of life care for my clients’ beloved pets. Since founding California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc in 2008, I’ve transitioned out of working at a 24-hour emergency hospital. The pet euthanasias in which I participate are exclusively done on a house-call basis.
As I develop long term professional relationships with my clients, the need to provide euthanasia services for my patients becomes inevitable. Permitting beloved pets to make graceful exits from our world in the comfort of their own homes and surrounded by loved ones (fellow animal and human companions) as compared to the institutional and sometimes less than familiar feel of a veterinary hospital facility is the typical preference of my clients.
Despite being a house-call based practitioner, home euthanasia is something I am not frequently called upon to perform. Many of my fellow veterinarians with house-call practices seemingly travel from home to home to euthanize pets. I’m fortunate that the trend in my practice is that euthanasia is the exception instead of the norm.
The fact that euthanasia exists as an option for our pets stems from the compassionate perspective that veterinarians have on the topic of quality of life. Why permit pets to suffer to the end from a terminal illness or persist in an exceedingly painful existence when we can facilitate their humane exit? As my own dog, Cardiff, has survived three bouts of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), I’ve often had to consider his quality of life during the extensive immunosuppressive treatment process. If Cardiff was unable to readily bounce back from his IMHA episodes, I would not continue to treat his illness and would "call it a life" (i.e., put him to sleep).
With that said, euthanasia is not something that should be done out of owner convenience. I have faced situations where an owner wants to put their pet(s) to sleep for reasons based on personal inconvenience or lack of financial capabilities. While I can understand not having the available funds to pay for treatment of a serious illness or trauma, I don’t approve of an owner’s lack of willingness to make lifestyle concessions to provide for a companion that cannot care for itself.
In these situations, I try to do what is right for my patient and have in some cases facilitated my clients’ surrender of their pets’ ownership. In these cases, I’ve transferred the pet to one of the rescue organizations with which I work and am then involved in facilitating further medical treatment. One notable patient was Buddha, the French Bulldog who incurred third degree burns from an unknown heat source. Euthanasia was avoided, Buddha fully recovered (see Burned French Bulldog Continues to Heal with Acupuncture Treatments), and he now lives with a more suitable long-term caregiver.
When it comes to elective euthanasia for health reasons, letting a pet go before its suffering becomes severe and quality of life has been considerably compromised is my recommendation. As making this decision is so personal and final, pet owners typically feel anguished about when the most appropriate time will be to pursue euthanasia. I strive to educate my clients about their pets’ current quality of life and the likely progression of disease. Creating a realistic exit plan is much more humane than making an urgent decision when the inevitable extreme or sudden progression of illness occurs.
After setting the date and time, I suggest bringing in family and friends to participate in the process of saying goodbye. On numerous occasions, I have witnessed the peace of mind provided to the owner by choosing a respectful, ceremonious, and well planned termination of a pet’s life.
To permit my clients to commemorate their pet’s life, I extend the invitation to provide some of their favorite photos and fond memories to create a pet memorial on my home site.The client is then able to share this permanent memorial with his or her family and friends.
In providing euthanasia services for my clients, I’m also losing the relationship I have with my patient. Therefore, I also feel the emotional loss. Creating the pet memorial and working with my clients on an ongoing basis with their other pets helps to relieve the hardship. Although my preference is to keep my patients alive and thriving, I am grateful to be part of the process of facilitating their end of life care.
Some of my patients who have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge:
Gromit gets acupuncture for pain relief resulting from arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and degenerative myelopathy.
Riley had surgery on both the R/L ruptured cruciate ligaments many years before developing and eventually succumbing to cancer.
Mack had a variety of conditions, including arthritis and Cushing's Disease.
Lucas needed the hip harness to support his body weight after a spinal tumor reduced his hind end's ability to hold him up.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Riley by Patrick Mahaney