Thursday, January 19, 2012

There are things worse than death

One of the worst (and best) things veterinarians deal with is euthanasia (from Greek roots meaning “easy death”), or the forced death of our patients. No one likes dealing with death, and none of us like being the dealers of death. But one thing I wish we could all remember is that…there are things worse than death.
When a cat is scared of her own shadow, hides from people who have shown nothing but love for her, wouldn’t know what to do outside if she were brave enough to walk out the door, and pees on the carpet to try to cope…that life is worse than death.
When a dog is so weak from arthritis he can’t get up without help, doesn’t enjoy seeing his owners come home anymore, and the only “normal” thing he does is eat (because his body tells him he should)…that life is worse than death.
Some owners have said it’s cruel to euthanize a pet "just because it's sick". Again, think of the pet with cancer, who hasn't responded to chemo or owners simply can't afford it. I think it's cruel to let that pet continue to decline. I try to remind owners to think about what their pet "lives for". When he or she can't or doesn't enjoy those things anymore, what's the fun in that? That is a life worse than death.

And, sometimes most importantly, pets don't know what they are missing by not being with us tomorrow. So I don’t really think there’s such thing as “euthanizing too soon”.  They remember the time they had with us, and the fun stuff they lived for, and when they start to have more bad days than good, sometimes the best thing we can do is end their life.

So when I say euthanasia is one of the best things about our job, I mean that it's an awesome burden and honor that we hold to grant relief to our patients who need it. Sometimes owners need to understand that we really do have their pets' best interests at heart.


  1. I agree. And I see so much human suffering I sometimes wish this were allowed in certain cases.

  2. @ Dr. Grumpy: Most of the vets I know have a plan worked out for personal end of life issues. I do.

  3. As the "mom" to two geriatric dogs (19 & 16)at least once a day this subject crosses my mind. As long as there are more good than bad days....but I'm not sure we will spend another Christmas together. I hope when the time comes our Vet views this "honor" as you do.

  4. This conversation makes my head hurt. We had a little kitten who was finally dx'd with FIP. My husband, bless his heart, brought the VERY lethargic but still responsive kitten home. He later said that the vet had strongly encouraged euthanization on the spot (he wasn't in pain then but would be) but my husband wanted me to see the kitten one more time before he passed. My husband was awake with the little guy throughout most of the night. I guess he started crying/meowing about two hours before he actually passed.

    My husband, bless his heart, is actually having nightmares over the pain and suffering that he caused.

    1. I'm sorry about your kitten, Hannah, and about your husband's trouble. Unfortunately it's very common for owners to say they waited too long to euthanize, for any number of reasons. I can't say I blame anyone and I have a hard time calling it selfishness (usually), because I've been there--we all have. At least it gives knowledge and a frame of reference for future experiences.

  5. ^It's still tough. Hell, I kept rats as pets as a teenager and still think about this one that I waited too long to get euthanized - and this was twelve+ years ago. (I guess it doesn't help the guilt on either of our parts' that we, in retrospect, didn't realize the FIP symptoms in the kitten until it was way too late for anything.)

    I'm a nurse with palliative/hospice experience and there is still something so fundamentally wrong in my opinion about letting an animal that has no real concept of death or the ability to conceptualize an ending to their suffer. I guess this is what bothers me so much?
    /tmi, I know

  6. The last paragraph of the post is SO TRUE! I always tell people that the best and worst part of my job is euthanasias. It always remains a knot in my stomach when I have to perform the task. Sometimes, like the other day when I saw the dog only for euthanasia but she reminded me of one I worked through pallitiave care for cancer, I cry. Its not easy; but its the best thing I do.