It can sound weird to include euthanasia in the list of treatment options when managing a patient. And as difficult as euthanasia can be, I truly believe that it is one of the kindest services we can offer to both our human clients and our animal patients.
Especially at a university veterinary hospital, the variety of options available to our 4-legged friends are more numerous than ever before. In many ways, the field of veterinary medicine is catching up to human medicine, adopting similar technologies and utilizing research from humans to extrapolate and further veterinary medicine.
Unfortunately, a lot of these treatments are still quite expensive. And without the same insurance and healthcare system in place for animals as there is for humans, that cost is often entirely out-of-pocket for our clients. We recognize that our clients want to do everything for their pets, but we also recognize that there is a financial ceiling for the majority of our clients as well.
When we propose treatment options to our clients, there’s generally a hierarchy of options – the ‘gold standard’, the bare minimum, and steps in between that combine bits and pieces of different types of treatment plans. And whatever treatment plan is elected, it is our job as veterinarians to honor that choice and to execute it to the best of our ability.
But in those critical cases, those severe cases, those cases where the odds are stacked against a pet, I feel it is important not to forget about euthanasia as a treatment option.
Could the animal be saved if the owner had all the money in the world? Could the animal be saved with expensive medications and invasive diagnostics and treatments, days or weeks or months of round-the-clock hospitalization resulting in life but compromised quality?
The answer may be yes to those questions, but the owners might not have all the money in the world. They might not want their animal to suffer through a treatment and hospitalization. They might not want their animal to endure that without a guarantee that they’ll be “better” at the end of it. They might not want their animal to have to go through that process without their family.
And when we leave euthanasia off the table, we may leave owners feeling like they have to commit to a treatment plan that they can’t afford or don’t want to pursue, while making them feel like they would be a terrible pet owner to bring the subject up to their vet.
The vet I shadowed in undergrad had one of the best perspectives on euthanasia that I have heard. She said that she had never seen someone decide to euthanize their pet too soon, but she had seen many pets euthanized too late.
I think it is important to remember that we have the ability to grant a dignified goodbye for our pets, that can save them and their owners a lot of pain and suffering. So when it comes to making our treatment plans and presenting them to our clients, let’s not shirk from the sometimes-uncomfortable conversation and ensure that we bring all the options available to the table.