Recently a young woman, “Julie”, walked into our practice with her 18 year old cat. This was “Tiger’s” first visit to our practice. The owner reported that Tiger had been diagnosed with a kidney problem when he was young, but had recovered uneventfully. Currently, she was concerned about progressive weight loss, lack of energy, and poor appetite. Tiger’s physical exam was unremarkable, other than being skinny and dehydrated. Presented with the options of a full diagnostic work up, basic diagnostics, or symptomatic treatment, Julie expressed concern regarding her kitty’s quality of life. Would euthanasia be the wrong choice? Tiger had been her companion since grade school, and she didn’t want him to suffer. How would you respond?
I told Julie that she knew Tiger best, and that if she felt that his quality of life was deteriorating, and did not want to put him through potentially rigorous testing and treatment at his age and in his condition, I would support her decision. She cried a little, and said that she thought it was time. She held Tiger in her arms as my technician and I administered the euthanasia solution.
While I don’t always agree, I do always try to respect my clients’ decisions—they were most likely not made lightly. In the infrequent cases where I disagree, I still try to keep in mind that I do not know all of the circumstances behind their choices. And if there’s a situation where I do not in good conscience feel that I can euthanize a pet, I try to explain my reasons calmly and non-judgementally, and present other possible options.
Stressful moments can etch themselves in our memories—clients remember how we handle episodes like this. I don’t believe that euthanasia can be a truly “good” event, but veterinary staff can strive to create the best possible experience for both owner and pet. Be compassionate and respectful, and you will go home with a clear conscience, and keep your client for life.