When Is Euthanasia Necessary? Here Are 5 Scenarios.

The decision to euthanize a pet is not an easy one to make, but there can be other factors for and against the procedure.

By: MyFWCmedia
The most difficult decision most pet parents face. By: MyFWCmedia

Most pet parents eventually will be faced with the most difficult decision: to euthanize or not to euthanize their pet.

Although most wish their furry family members would just “pass in their sleep,” this hardly ever happens. Here are 5 scenarios in which life and death decisions were made.

1. Age May Be a Factor

An adorable, geriatric kitty had an aggressive and invasive cancerous mass (carcinoma) on her lower jaw. She was skin and bones because the mass prevented her from eating.

Could a surgeon have granted the caretakers’ wish and removed the lower jaw? Technically speaking, yes. We actually do that regularly.

However, such a heroic procedure would not have been in this cat’s best interest. This is a rare situation where we actually recommend euthanasia. We almost never encourage euthanasia because we entered this field to save animals. But in this cat’s case, it was the right thing to do. Still in complete denial, the cat’s caretakers took their cat to try their luck with another surgeon.

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At times, a preconceived idea will prevent or delay treatment. This can result in euthanasia, although the condition may be treatable or even curable. Pet parents rationalize by saying, “I don’t want to put him through this,” or “She is too old for that.”

2. Outside Influence

Family members or “friends” sometimes pressure pet parents into making impulsive decisions. “If it were my dog, I would never treat him.” They may have the best intentions in mind, but with little medical knowledge behind their reasoning, their advice may be misleading.

An example of this situation is laryngeal paralysis, a condition that makes dogs suffocate. Although complications are possible, most patients do very well after surgery. However, many end up euthanized for the wrong reasons.

3. Expense

Finances sometimes dictate which treatment a pet receives.

Sadly, there are cases when a low-cost alternative may not be available. For instance, male kitties can get a life-threatening blockage that prevents them from urinating. The best solution is to place a catheter to relieve the bladder, IV fluids to resume normal kidney function and sometimes reconstructive surgery for “repeat offenders.”

There are “minimalist treatments” — but if the obstruction recurs, we are back to square 1. If you cannot afford treatment for this condition, euthanasia may be warranted because this is a painful and potentially deadly condition. Vets have a simple solution when money is tight: pet health insurance.

4. Home Care Concerns

Euthanasia is sometimes dictated when caretakers can’t treat their pet properly, although the pet requires daily treatments at home. Diabetics need daily insulin injections and blood sugar monitoring. Cats with kidney disease may need fluids injected under their skin.

Some pet families opt for euthanasia because they believe they cannot do this.

5. Fear or Aggression

The majority of pets we perceive as aggressive are actually terrified. They are defending themselves from what they believe is a threat.

Untreated behavior problems are the most common reasons pets are relinquished to shelters. Should aggressive animals be euthanized? Other options should be explored first. For example, spaying and neutering may help, and consulting with a veterinary behaviorist is recommended.

Before considering euthanasia, make sure you have all the facts in hand. Ask your veterinarian for guidance, or get a second opinion, and always make your decision based on the best interest of your pet.

We are fortunate that euthanasia is a humane legal option in veterinary medicine. Let’s use it for the right reasons.

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AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, Penn., contributed to this article.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

View posts by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling, board-certified veterinary surgeon in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. He is a certified veterinary journalist, an award-winning author and a prolific speaker. He co-wrote Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, about weight loss in dogs and humans. He also writes a free weekly newsletter, available at DrPhilZeltzman.com.

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