Over the last couple of months, we have been discussing cancers and tumours. We mentioned the different types of benign and malignant cancers and their treatments. Some-times, however, the growths have developed so quickly and have become so huge, and have spread to other parts of the body, etc, that not only is your pet uncomfortable, but it is actually feeling great pain and distress. At this point, you and your vet must have a serious discussion on the future existence of your pet.
Do not believe that it is only the pet owner/caregiver who feels miserable about the whole affair. Your vet who has probably known the pup pretty much from 6 weeks of age, and who has nursed it back to health on occasion, who has seen your input to ensure the companion animal remains healthy, now must throw up his/her hands and say no more, enough is enough, it is time to say goodbye. If ever there is a time in a vet’s practice when his/her feeling of inadequacy is strained, it is when a pet must be put to sleep. The compassion the vet feels must not only be directed to the companion animal, but also to the pet’s owner who is in a state anguish.
It is a difficult decision. The question that needs to be answered is: do I prefer to see my beloved pet and the faithful family friend groan in agony because of the relentless growth of a malignant cancer, or because its legs are broken up into smithereens, or because the spinal cord has been ruptured thus rendering the pet in paralysis which will cause him to drag himself around for the rest of his life, to say nothing of the inability to defecate or urinate?
Let’s look firstly at the valid reasons for putting down an animal. And, by the way, let it be clearly understood by all parties that the animal is going to be killed. How often have I not heard stories of colleagues believing the saying ‘put to sleep’ had a different understanding by the pet owner to what he, the vet, meant. “Doc, I thought you were just sedating my pet, not that you were putting her into a sleep from which she will never wake up.” That is not only embarrassing, it is heartbreaking. It is for this reason that I advise veterinarians to make it quite clear that the veterinarian is euthanizing (nice word) the animal which means that he/she is killing the pet. Further, I advise that prior to introducing the method which will result in the animal’s immediate death, a consent form must be signed by the pet owner/caregiver.
Some reasons for euthanizing animals – some might be acceptable, some are debatable:
1) The animal is suffering from a terminal ailment that medical or surgical interventions can no longer make a curative impact.
2) The animal is suffering from a severe illness whereby survival and recovery is possible, but of minimal likelihood, and the animal is likely to go through significant pain and suffering while attempts are made to correct the problem.
3) The pet has a chronic, manageable illness requiring a lot of medication (eg, many pills and needles), regular hospital stays and frequent testing and veterinary check-ups to manage it, but the animal is behaviourally and emotionally ill-equipped to cope and gets far too distressed by all of the procedures to keep on having them done over and over again for the rest of its life.
4) The pet has a severe, chronic disease where death from the disease itself is unlikely, but drugs are no longer helping the pet with its pain or mobility.
5) The animal is uncontrollably aggressive to the point of being a danger to humans and other animals.
6) The animal has a severe patho-physiological/patho-psychological condition that has not responded to veterinary and/or behavioural modification therapies. This is a different decision because the animal is physically healthy. But some forms behavioural disturbance are so severe that they are not conducive to a pet remaining in a household.
7) The animal has severe genetically based anatomical defects. You don’t want the animal to suffer massive respiratory distress because of a birth defect in its nasal passages or breathing system; also you don’t want that animal to reproduce and carry on the defective genes to the offspring.
8) The owner cannot afford to pay for a too costly-to-treat ailment. This reason is very debatable.
9) The animal has a zoonosis, ie, a disease transmissible to humans – eg, rabies; or the animal is a carrier of a disease that can infect other animals.
10) The owner suddenly falls out of love with his/her companion animal; or sometimes (most times?) the owner is leaving the country or going to a new house which cannot accommodate a pet. But they do not want the pet to go to an adoptive home. There is a lot of selfishness contained in this reason. Unfortunately, the vet will most likely euthanize the animal, because the owner will just stray the pet – leaving it to a life of perpetual suffering until its death.
I’ll stop here for now. I thought that this would be a one article topic. That’s not going to happen. Next week, I’ll list some of the mostly unacceptable reasons vets encounter when dealing with the issue of euthanasia. It is important that we discuss this matter.
Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.