Veterinarians Help Pet Owners Choose the Right Time to Say Goodbye

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Your veterinarian is there for you when your pet is bright eyed and healthy, and also when the animal is nearing the end of its life.

Every veterinarian has heard it: “I could never do what you do. I could never put a pet to sleep.”

Would it surprise you to know that I believe helping a suffering pet pass on, although never easy, is one of the most important parts of my job?

It’s true. I've always said that a veterinarian is with a pet owner from "pre-cradle to post-grave," from "before the first hello until after the last goodbye.” While welcoming the right new pet into a family is one of the greatest joys of being a veterinarian, the act of euthanasia — done with competence, confidence and compassion (this lump in my throat, these tears in my eyes: They are real) — is a gift to a pet and the family who loves him, and a good way to end a life well lived.

Pet lovers think that this part of the veterinarian’s job is important too. As a veterinarian, about the only time you get a card from a pet owner is after you've helped guide the process of saying goodbye. I can't think of anything more important than helping a pet and pet owner at such a difficult time. Like many of my colleagues, I find that to be true even when all the goodbyes have worn on us emotionally.

I believe in being there, and I believe in helping pet lovers choose the right time to say goodbye. In this, I am not alone.

Getting Help With a Hard Decision

The decision to end a pet’s life is very personal, and as you work with your veterinarian to make it, know that there are no right or wrong choices: There are only those that are best for your family and your pet.

Treatment, hospice care and euthanasia are all options near the end of a pet’s life. When you choose treatment for your pet, consider what her quality of life is without it, what the treatment will involve, and what quality of life she can expect afterward. There are millions of pets whose lives are improved by veterinary care in their senior years, but there are also pets whose lives are prolonged by painful procedures and treatments that do very little to improve their days. Discuss with your veterinarian what the reasonable expectations are for your pet’s condition after any intervention.

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