Deciding when it’s time-the quality of life discussion

posted on July 02, 2019 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

One of the worst part of owning pets is that they don’t live as long as we do, so at some point it will be time to say goodbye.  However, we do have the ability to end a pet’s life with dignity and to relieve suffering.  But many people aren’t sure when it’s time.  We here at Heritage Animal Hospital have recently had to make these decisions for both our clinic dog and cat, so we understand what you’re going through.

First of all, if you are unsure, you can always make an appointment or call us to discuss.  As veterinarians, we are trained to look for signs of suffering, pain, and diminishing quality of life in our pets, so we are often a more objective source to help make the decision.  Second of all, if you feel it is time for whatever reason, we will not second guess or judge you for this.  You know your pet the best.

Things we often recommend looking at include is the pet eating/drinking, is the pet able to move on it’s own, and is the pet still interacting with you.  Does it enjoy the things it used to?  (Note-a 15 year old dog is the equivalent of a 90 year old person, so it may not enjoy frisbee anymore, but might still get enjoyment from being outside or going for a walk).  Is the pet having accidents, and is it able to move out of them or is it covered in it’s own feces and/or urine?  Is the pet in pain, and if so, are we adequately controlling it with medications, supplements, etc.

Pick a couple things that make your pet special.  Are they still doing those things?  A pet that always greats you at the door and suddenly won’t get up when you come home, or a pet that follows you from room to room suddenly stays in it’s bed alone in a room are signs that it may be time.

Because this decision is very difficult, it can be hard to balance emotions with reality.  Using things like penny jars for good or bad days/events, marking a calendar, or using scales like the one below can help give you a visual, concrete representation of how your pet is doing.

Ultimately you know your pet best, but we are here to help you make these tough decisions, and can help by telling you when we think it may be time when you can’t make this decision on your own.  Please let us know if we can help.

In Loving Memory of Jack and Harry

How to decide “when it’s time”

posted on September 02, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

One of the more common questions we get asked as our pets age, is when to decide when it’s time for humane euthanasia.  First off, I’d like to say there are many right answers to this question.

A number of things are taken into account when looking at quality of life.  You know your pet best-what makes your pet themselves?  Does Fido love playing ball?  Does Fifi lives to eat? Does Spot have to be in the room with you at all times?  If your pet is not able to do these things anymore or is not interested in doing them anymore, it might be time.

Important things to consider are whether the pet is still eating, able to get around, and interacting with the family.  They may be slower than they used to be, and maybe a walk around the block instead of a mile long walk is all they can do, but if they can’t get around on their own this can significantly impact their quality of life.

Nutrition is an important consideration, and if they aren’t eating on their own this can be a major red flag.  Most pets live to eat, and this is often one of the main reasons clients choose to euthanize.  An examination may be recommended to make sure there isn’t an underlying treatable or manageable condition, but if a pet is not eating for more than a couple days this is a concern.

Interactions with family is yet another major point.  Sometimes pets are painful and avoid interactions because they are concerned it will hurt.  Other times there can be cognitive changes that affect the behavior.

Lastly, overall health should be taken into consideration.  Is your pet having accidents and laying in it because they are incontinent or can’t get up?  Is your pet painful from arthritis or other medical issues?  Can they hear and see?  While deafness, blindness, or incontinence are not necessarily a reason to euthanize in themselves, they do contribute to the pet’s overall well being.

Ways to help determine when it’s time include a conversation with your veterinarian.  They may perform an examination and potentially diagnostics to determine the health status of your pet.  Measuring good days vs. bad days can also be very helpful.  A calendar marked with smiley or frown faces or penny jars where you put a penny in for good things (went for walk, ate, made it up the stairs, etc.) vs. bad things (fell, didn’t eat, etc.) can help you visualize and remember looking back.  This is an emotional decision and sometimes the head and heart don’t always agree, so a visual aid can be beneficial.

There is a chart published by Veterinary Practice News that helps give a numerical score to pet’s quality of life as well.  Again, this alone should not be the driving factor to decide, but can help quantify your pet’s quality of life.

If you are wondering if it is time, please contact us so we can have a quality of life discussion with you.  Together we hope to give your pet the best quality of life they can have, and want to help ease their suffering when it’s time.