Euthanasia: Your Head Says One Thing, But Your Heart Says Another

Holding cat's paw

Occasionally, the decision making that surrounds euthanizing a pet is pretty straightforward. In cases of massive trauma, severe illness or unrelenting pain that cannot be managed, the path seems clear. In other cases, however, it can be hard to know what to do.

The feeling that “it’s time” can be more obvious in some situations than in others. But no matter how clear-cut the case may seem, a decision to euthanize a beloved pet often still involves a slew of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Making reasoned choices for our pets in such situations is often agonizing — and maybe that is as it should be. It is no small thing to end a life, and each instance must be approached with care and deep respect.

It Is Never Easy

Clients often talk about their struggle to find the “right” time. (Veterinarians face this same issue themselves with regard to their own animals.) Few people want to “jump the gun” and end a life too soon. On the other hand, most of us would be horrified if we waited too long and our pets suffered needlessly. So how do we navigate euthanasia decision making more easily? When the information we have seems clear, but we just can’t wrap our minds around making a decision, what do we do? And what do we do if a veterinarian (or well-meaning friend) suggests euthanasia as something to consider when it hasn’t even been on our radar to begin with? That can be an emotional shocker.

Deciding to euthanize a pet is never easy. This is particularly true when finances, time constraints, physical limitations to providing care, unexpected events, or a need to prioritize the care of our human family trumps our desire to care for our animals. We can feel tremendous guilt, helplessness and sometimes even resentment toward the things and people that we think are standing in the way of what we’d like to do. Sometimes life is so busy it seems there just isn’t time to stop — to take the time we really need to face up to the decisions we must make. And then sometimes it seems there simply are no good choices, no matter how much time we may have.

How to Make Sense of the Difficult

Having people who can listen to your concerns and questions, and help you sort through things as objectively as possible, can be invaluable. This can then leave room for tackling the equally important emotional issues attached to losing a loved one — in this case, an animal companion.

Your veterinarian can help you with the medical questions and also support you by acknowledging how tough these decisions are. But sometimes the questions related to our emotional attachment are the ones that can be the most important to address because, if not, these emotional factors can be the things that blind us to the reality of our pets’ conditions.

Hard as it may be, we have to acknowledge the realities of our situation. There are “quality-of-life scales” out there that have been popularized, but none of these have been scientifically evaluated or validated. So while they can give us ideas about what we need to consider when we walk down this path, they should not be used as cookie cutter guides for our euthanasia decisions. There is too much individual variation in circumstances. For most people, there are things other than the pet’s actual medical condition that must be considered. From financial resources to time available to care for an ill pet or the physical limitations of caring for a disabled pet — there are often multiple bits of information to process.

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