As animals age, their ability to maintain health and vitality becomes limited and growing old gracefully can be a challenge! An older animal in the wild becomes slower, less able to hunt or graze, and keep up with their peers. Subsequently their condition deteriorates further and the natural cycle is that they do not survive for very long. Keeping animals outside of their natural environment places the responsibility upon our shoulders to ensure that their care and maintenance is of a high enough standard to allow for quality of life.
When animals are old and ill, it can be difficult to know “when it is time”. I often tell my clients that they will know when the time comes as they will see it in their pets’ eyes and most of them do. It can also be helpful to have some way to quantify their quality of life by giving them a “quality of life score” each day ie. If they are happy and bright, moving around easily and eating well then they would score a 10/10 but if they are lethargic, not eating and poorly responsive then they would get a 1/10. When it is no longer possible to preserve an animals’ quality of life, it becomes necessary to consider euthanasia as it is the quality of their life rather than the quantity which is of utmost importance. This can be a difficult decision but is often a kind release from the pain and discomfort that some aged animals ultimately suffer from.
For our patients we often do a home visit as pets are at ease in their home environments and it is a special time for their family to be with them and give gratitude for their life of companionship with a gentle euthanasia process. I am often amazed by how many old dogs meet me at the front door when I arrive and almost guide me to their bed almost saying “thanks for coming, let’s do this, I am ready”.
We generally sedate our patients which involves injecting a small amount of sedative with a tiny needle so that when we give the next injection, an anesthetic with a larger volume to inject, they are sleeping comfortably and oblivious to further intervention. It usually takes a few minutes for the sedative to work and then we raise a vein, inject the anesthetic which puts them into a much deeper sleep and ultimately stops their heart. This is generally a very peaceful process and remembering all the happy memories at this time can often be helpful for the pets’ family to deal with their grief. Although this can be such a difficult time, many pet owners feel a great sense of relief as they end their pets suffering with love and dignity.