Holidays: the busiest time of the year... for pet euthanasia

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: June 02, 2016
Published: December 11, 2006
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I’ve heard it said many times many ways by many vets. Holidays are the busiest time of the year…for pet euthanasia. Already this month our hospital has euthanized twelve cases (in ten days). It’s not something we’re proud of (as well you know if you’ve read my recent posts). Nonetheless, it’s an annual reality that never fails to catch me by surprise.

I’m not quite sure what makes this the right season to elect death for your loved ones but, as always, I have some theories for you to consider:

The Holidays are a time when most of us either 1-speed up and don’t think about much beyond accomplishing all the work the season brings or 2-slow down and consider things more deeply (it’s hard not to if you arrive home to the strains of Handel’s Messiah or hang out at Starbuck’s internalizing this year’s mournful Holiday selections). And some of us more bipolar types cycle through these two states several times a day during this bizarre time of year.

As most of you probably already know, depression and disease are pervasive among humans this time of year. We miss loved ones long gone, grieve our youthful exuberance for the Holidays, and/or bemoan the stress of unwelcome human interaction (family gatherings, office parties, etc.). It’s no wonder we get to feeling overwhelmed, overstressed and beaten down.

Our pets suck all this up like the sponges of human emotions they are. They suffer our rollercoaster moods, our gift-giving stress and our travel plans silently…until they get sick. It’s no wonder that older pets just seem to get sick more often this time of year—just like their people. Who wants to maintain a constant will to live when your people are not acting like themselves…or disappear for a week at a time to god knows where.

Contrary to popular opinion I posit that very few of these cases actually qualify as convenience euthanasias. Even the most beloved, well cared for pet has a higher probability of succumbing to serious, life-ending illness during the Holidays.

And when you’re expecting four houseguests or planning a long ski vacation, knowing that Fluffy will suffer the stress of displacement or your protracted absence makes it much easier to opt for euthanasia earlier than you might otherwise. That’s not convenience. It’s reality. Perhaps the most pet conscientious among us would plan a more geriatric pet-friendly Holiday but that’s not always possible.

Hard as it is for us healthcare providers to deal with the down side of the season, we do make up for it. Today I saw my first Christmas pup: a drop-dead gorgeous Portuguese Water Dog of ideal temperament and impeccable health. The Holiday schizophrenia pervades more than just the Starbuck’s music selections; it makes itself known in the vet world, as well.