We dread the day when we have to say 'goodbye' to our four-legged best friends. If your dog is getting older or has cancer or another illness, this might be on your mind more frequently.
We always hope that they will pass peacefully in their sleep. This way, there's no pain and we don't have to make the gut-wrenching decision about when to elect euthanasia.
When a dog is diagnosed with cancer, one of the most significant fears that family members have is whether or not their beloved pet will suffer in "the end". It's important to remember that in veterinary medicine we have control over when a pet is euthanized. If you monitor your dog very closely, you can elect euthanasia before they suffer at all. Your veterinarian, oncologist, or palliative care vet can help you make this decision and decide when the time is right.
It's also important to remember that the process of euthanasia is quick and painless if done correctly. Most families feel that it's a much more peaceful process than they had anticipated.
I will not downplay how difficult of a decision it is to choose to euthanize a dog. This is even more difficult if they have had cancer or another disease, which has caused you to be a constant caregiver for weeks or even months. I've had more than one client tell me that losing their dog was more difficult than losing a sibling or parent.
As difficult as it is, I think it is extremely important that we do everything we can to intervene and choose euthanasia for a dog that is suffering. Choosing euthanasia doesn't mean giving up, it means being a responsible pet owner to the dog that did nothing but love you for his entire life. It's definitely easier to "do nothing" and hope that a pup without intervention but this isn't fair. If a pet is suffering (and this isn't going to improve) they should be humanely euthanized.
If you are having trouble making the decision, talk to others that have gone through the experience. These could be friends that have dogs, members of a cancer support group, it could even be a therapist that specializes in grief or pet loss.
Losing a dog is incredibly difficult. Don't try to stick it out alone. Turn to friends or family members that might understand, consider a pet loss support group, or even consider a therapist that specializes in grief counseling.
If you're not sure whether it's the "right time" or not, ask a veterinarian. This could be your family vet, oncologist, or even a palliative care veterinarian (they do house calls). Having someone else weigh in allows for an unbiased opinion and also takes some of the stress off of you.
Pet Loss Resources:
(1) Colorado State University’s Argus Institute Counseling & Support Services. Wonderful website with a wealth of information regarding quality of life assessments, support, end of life decisions, and grieving.
(2) The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. Features chat rooms moderated by counselors for pet loss and anticipatory grief.
(3) Virtual Candle Lighting Ceremony. Monday's 7 PM PST.
Dr. Lori Cesario
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
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