One of the most difficult tasks of my job is performing euthanasia or more commonly “putting a pet to sleep”. No owner wants to make this decision, but understanding that euthanasia can be a final act of kindness for their beloved friend may make this decision a little more bearable. Dr. Michael Schaer at the University of Florida, once gave me a heart to heart talk about euthanasia and when it is an appropriate course of action. He said in his 30-plus years of practice, the patient always dictates his course of treatment, but with consideration to the educated owners’ desire. In doctor’s words, look at the patient and its disease, quality of life, can you improve any aspect for the patient or the owner and if not, consider euthanasia. In owner’s words, you know when it is time to end a patient’s life when they stop interacting with the family, stop eating, drinking or having normal bathroom habits, have a treatable or untreatable disease that carries a horrible prognosis or certain death…in other words, a poor quality of life. Personally, my father died in a nursing home after years of strokes destroyed his physical and mental status. To be honest, there were many times I wish euthanasia could have been available to end my father’s tremendous suffering. Everyone, myself included, wishes their pet will pass away in their sleep, but unfortunately, this is a very, very rare occurrence. Euthanasia is a painless, quick procedure which ends physical suffering for the patient and helps start emotional healing for the owner. Procedurally, a special concentrated barbiturate injection (only used for this purpose) is given intravenously to the patient which stops the heart and breathing. The patient feels nothing and death is instantaneous.
Euthanasia is the most difficult decision an owner can make for their pet. Although not always possible, I try to educate the owner about the disease and prognosis long before a decision has to be made. Having the ability to end a good friends’ suffering, when nothing can be done, is truly the greatest act of kindness an owner can provide.