How Do I Know When It's Time?
Our job as pet owners is to enhance the quality of life for our beloved pets. Many pets can live long happy lives even in the face of injury, chronic disease, and old age. As a veterinarian, I can provide medications and treatments to maintain the quality of my patient's lives but there comes a time when these therapies no longer suffice. You, the pet owner, have observed your pet throughout his/her life and are best qualified to assess whether this threshold has been crossed. When this time arrives, we at Happy Endings are here to help.
"Making the Decision" - by Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed.
Assessing a pet's quality of life is an ongoing process, not a one-time decision. Initially, we're likely to attempt to compensate for the problems we see. Pain medication may relieve a pet's discomfort and improve its mobility. A change in diet may improve a pet's appetite or provide better nutrition. We may resolve that we're willing to clean up after a pet and carry it wherever it needs to go, for as long as necessary. But eventually such measures will cease to be effective. The process of assessing "quality of life" is really a question of determining (and deciding) when that point has been reached -- and what you intend to do next.
It is often tempting, at this point, to postpone a decision still longer by deciding to "let nature take its course." Before choosing that course of action (or inaction), however, it's important to understand that, as a pet owner, you have been thwarting the "course of nature" from the beginning. By ensuring that your pet has food and shelter and is protected from predators, you have already guaranteed that nature will not take its course. By providing medical treatment, you have prolonged the life of your pet far beyond what it could have expected if left to "nature." In nature, an animal that becomes too ill to obtain food or protect itself will perish quickly, though not necessarily comfortably.
Nor does nature necessarily offer an "easy" death even if you choose to let it "take its course" in the comfort of your home. An animal that cannot breathe easily, cannot eat or digest food properly, cannot control its bodily functions, and can scarcely move or enjoy human contact because of pain, is hardly dying "comfortably."
This is really what the "quality of life" issue is all about. By usurping nature's role throughout the life of our pets, we must sometimes also accept its role in determining (and bringing about) the death of a pet. To accept this, we may also have to accept that, in some cases, the quality of life we're really trying to protect is our own: That we're allowing our pet to suffer out of a desire to avoid the anguish we know that we will experience when it dies. And that, ultimately, is the most unselfish act of love we can offer: To end a pet's suffering, we must choose to accept our own.