The most frequent lament the doctors at Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice, In-Home Euthanasia, and Integrative Medicine hear from pet families it that they fear that they won’t be able to determine the “right” time for euthanasia. Many families know that it’s the hardest decision they will ever have to make and don’t know the signs and symptoms to look for in their pet to ensure they make the right decision.

Many are afraid they will make the decision to euthanize “too soon,” however, we most frequently hear regrets from pet families that feel they waited too long to consider euthanasia with a previous pet.

The most common symptoms we discuss in determining quality of life include pain, anxiety, mobility, eliminations, and appetite. Notall pets respond to the same disease the same way so there is no one thing to signal to use that it is time to euthanize. For some pets it will be when they stop eating, but some pets will never stop eating, despite being in intense pain. Our doctors help walk families through their pet’s disease process to explain the most likely changes they will notice in their pet. Discussing these possibilities BEFORE a pet is experiencing them is key to helping set guidelines for what the family thinks might be “deal-breakers” for their pet. Once the pet is experiencing some of these signs and symptoms, the grief process can make these decisions very difficult to process. Each family member may have different feelings about these decisions as well, so conversation and compromise can also become difficult when emotions are heightened. For this reason, many end-of-life-decisions should not be made in end-of-life moments if at all possible.

Some families have extra burden regarding the decision from a religious, spiritual, or moral standpoint and many feel uncomfortable assuming responsibility for their pets death. This is totally normal and part of the grieving process. We encourage all of our families to know that the doctor is the one making the ultimate decision that euthanasia is ethically best for the pet in question our doctors would not perform the procedure if they didn’t feel this way. Our doctors look to the pet’s family for guidance as the family knows that pet better than anyone and will help the family determine if they feel the time is “right.” Looking for the “right” or “best” time for euthanasia is misleading. In almost all cases there is no one day or time where euthanasia is best. Instead, a window of time develops, and this window could be hours, days, weeks, or even months where euthanasia can be appropriately utilized to prevent a pet’s future distress or end distress once it’s begun. Prior to this window, veterinarians can help guide families to explore other options regarding their pet’s care. After this window, when obvious and sustained suffering is noted, veterinarians work to help educate families who may not be aware of the signs of suffering or what the pet may be experiencing and really encourage a family to act in the best interest of the pet- either with enhanced pain management and palliation of symptoms or with euthanasia. The “right” time during the window is different for every family and every pet. Many are afraid they will make the decision to euthanize “too soon,” however, we most frequently hear regrets from pet families that feel they waited too long to consider euthanasia with a previous pet. Looking back they regret the difficult last few hours, days, or weeks their pet had to endure because they were afraid or too sad to say goodbye. Moving forward, they learn from that experience and tend to make decisions sooner rather than later for the subsequent pets in their lives. Pet’s are always teaching us things- even in their passing.

Wondering if your pet will just pass on his own? Read more about this common question.

Our goal at Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice, In-Home Euthanasia, & Integrative Medicine is a peaceful, family-oriented end-of-life experience. Our doctors will work with your family to discuss your goals for your pet and help guide important decision-making with those goals in mind. We are here to help make this time a little bit easier for everyone. Veterinary hospice and palliative care is aimed at providing and maintaining comfort, quality of life, and optimizing the family-animal bond for as long as possible; we are here for you! 

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If you have a pet you think would benefit from a Hospice consultation or In-Home Euthanasia appointment, please contact Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice, In-Home Euthanasia, and Integrative Medicine at 757-474-5968.