There is an old Buddhist saying I have come across that reads: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I see patients in pain on a daily basis. It could be a four-month-old puppy who sustained a metacarpal fracture while the owner was at work, a geriatric cat with osteoarthritis, or a dog recovering post-operatively after her spay. Pain comes in a number of flavors, and thankfully as medical practitioners, we have a number of therapeutic modalities to treat it. Sometimes, though, pain becomes too much for a patient to handle. The drugs I prescribe can have bad side effects, cause kidney failure, and stop being as effective. A multimodal approach can fail and with all the tools we have at our disposal, my patient may continue to decline, regardless of his or her diagnosis. It’s at these times that I have a frank and honest conversation with an owner about prognosis and about my duty to advocate for my patient’s welfare.
Euthanasia, as painful as it is to perform, is a way to end suffering. It is never easy to do, and it always reminds me of my father’s final weeks and days under hospice care. Even though I get a snapshot of a patient’s life whenever he or she presents to the clinic, it is hard for me. I cannot imagine how hard it is for their owners. And yet, despite the hurt and heartache, there is a large part of me that appreciates the gift that it is to end suffering and be there at the end of life to ensure a peaceful transition to whatever lies ahead.