Considering Euthanasia for Your Pet

Euthanasia, the technical term for putting a dog to sleep, is one of the hardest decisions you will ever make, and it doesn't get any easier, no matter how many times over the years you face it. Your veterinarian can offer you advice and your friends can offer you support, but no one can make the decision for you. When you live with an elderly or terminally ill pet, you look in her eyes every morning and ask yourself: Is this the day?

To know for sure is impossible.

Some owners do not wait until their pet's discomfort becomes pain and choose euthanasia much sooner than many people would. Some owners use an animal's appetite as the guide — when an old or ill animal is no longer interested in eating, they reason, he's not interested in anything at all. And some owners wait until there's no doubt the time is at hand.

Each guideline is the right one, for some dogs and some owners at some times. You do the best you can, and then you try to put the decision behind you and deal with the grief. Ironically, the incredible advances in veterinary medicine in the past couple of decades have made the decisions even more difficult for many people. Not too long ago, the best you could do for a seriously ill pet was to make her comfortable until that wasn't possible anymore. Nowadays, nearly every advantage of human medicine — from chemotherapy to pacemakers — is available to our pets.

If you can afford such care and have a realistic expectation that it will improve your pet's life — rather than simply prolong it — then it is an option that should be pursued. But let nothing push you into making a decision based on guilt or wishful thinking.

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Euthanasia is a kindness extended to a treasured pet, a decision we make at a great cost to ourselves. It is a final act of love, nothing less.

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