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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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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:

dalmation, arthritis, acupuncture for pets, dog acupuncture, degenerative joint disease, degenerative myelopathy

Gromit gets acupuncture for pain relief resulting from arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and degenerative myelopathy.

window reflection, cancer in dog, ruptured cruciate

Riley had surgery on both the R/L ruptured cruciate ligaments many years before developing and eventually succumbing to cancer.

 

dalmation, arthritis, cuchings disease, dog with bone

Mack had a variety of conditions, including arthritis and Cushing's Disease.

spinal tumor in dog, hip harness, dog, medical

 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

Comments  6

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  • Thank You
    06/12/2012 07:29am

    Thank you for sharing the pictures of clients that have obviously meant a great deal to you.

    My critters and I are lucky to have a doctor that's compassionate and willing to fight as long as the critter has a quality of life.

    He has suggested giving a critter a chance when I thought it was time (Happily, he was right!) and he has also gently guided me to the decision to let one go.

    With all the others, we've been in complete agreement when the "time is right".

    I'm grateful we can make these tough decisions together because the critter's quality of life is more important than how I'm going to deal with it.

  • 06/15/2012 02:40am

    Thank you for your comments.
    I'm glad that you have a solid relationship with a veterinarian with whom you feel comfortable who can compassionately and appropriately guide you through tough decisions. Such is what all pet owners want for their companions.
    Dr PM

  • Thoughtful!
    06/12/2012 02:51pm

    What a lovely, thoughtful, and compassionate piece of writing!

    I wish I were your client!

    Having had many Irish Wolfhounds for forty years, and loved and lost beloved horses as well, I can resonate with your feelings. I have also felt compassion for my animals' doctors when they have euthanized them after years of relating to them, sometimes from conception to the moment of death, and I know as friend to me as well as doctor to the animal, they feel the situation in a unique way.

    I am facing this situation now with a very dear wolfhound companion, and my good friend/vet has remarried and moved away, so I have just realized I am facing a difficult situation without my usual support. I have been looking up mobile vet practices who will do euthanasias at home, but it is so difficult when you have no previous relationship.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about this. It is always a hard thing, feels like your guts are being ripped out. But that is more the feeling of being helpless to alleviate suffering, once a decision is actually made things are somewhat less turbulent.

  • 06/15/2012 02:43am

    Thank you for your comments.
    I'm sorry to hear of the nature of your canine companion's impending departure.
    Perhaps you can ask for a professional reference from a business in your area that provides cremation services? Many such business have a list of veterinarian on their website with whom you can call to make the introduction to plan for a pet's eventual euthanasia. That way, if you make a few contacts, you have multiple options.
    Good luck and I hope to see you back again in my petMD's The Daily Vet page.
    Dr PM
    www.PatrickMahaney.com
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • Inevitable Issues!
    06/14/2012 07:28am

    Thank you for an insightful and sensitive post. Given the life expectancy of dogs, it's inevitable that you will preside over more than one passing of a beloved companion. I'm called a man's man but have melted into tears each time I have gone through this! Euthanasia can be a caring and responsible tool for an owner. After all it is our responsibility to care for a pet when it can not care for itself. Convenience is not an acceptable reason to put an animal down, although I'm sure it happens every day. Thanks again.

  • 06/15/2012 02:46am

    Gryphon,
    Thank you for your comments.
    Yes, I agree that we need to properly plan for our pet's departure so that it can be as peaceful and human as possible....i.e. in the comfort of a pet's familiar surroundings. Such may be inconvenient and potentially more expensive (as compared to an in-facility procedure), yet we owe it to our animal companions to serve their best interests in sickness and in health.
    I hope to see you back again on my petMD The Daily Vet page.
    Thank you,
    Dr PM
    www.PatrickMahaney.com
    Twitter: @PatrickMahaney
    Facebook: Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian: Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets

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