Old tired German shepherd
Photo courtesy of DepositPhotos
One of the hardest decisions any pet owner will ever make is the decision to euthanize a pet to end suffering. Why then, do our pets sometimes make that decision harder? Why do some pets have a last rally just before their euthanasia appointment?
It’s commonly reported by owners and veterinarians that some pets will have a last burst of energy between the call to schedule the euthanasia and the procedure itself. It can be jarring to see such a thing, causing an owner to doubt a difficult decision. What could be happening? There are several theories.
Most terminal diseases are waxing and waning. It’s really not one long downhill slide when seen up-close. It’s a mix of good and bad days, one where the bad days become more and more common than the good. As that ratio worsens, and the owner perceives that bad days are becoming the norm for the pet, the euthanasia appointment is scheduled. But in reality, there are still good moments, albeit much less frequent. Odds are that one of those perkier moments will happen between when the decision is made and the euthanasia itself.
It’s also possible that it’s all psychological. When we are considering whether or not to euthanize a pet, there may be a lot of anxiety and stress involved in the decision-making process. Our pets pick up on those feelings and reflect them back, appearing worse themselves. Then, we make the decision, schedule the appointment, and it’s set. A weight is lifted off our shoulders and we become calmer, focusing our attention not on the decision process but on our pet’s last hours or days. They bask in this glow of good feelings, and they appear to improve, just before the euthanasia occurs.
Many of our pets experiencing terminal illnesses are already on pain medications, either for the illness itself or for other common conditions such as arthritis. Perhaps in the days, weeks, or months before we make the decision to euthanize, as conscientious owners, we try to walk the line between giving enough pain medications to keep our pets comfortable but not so much as to cause annoying or debilitating side effects. Now, knowing there is little time left, we may not care at all about side effects because our goal is keeping the pet out of pain. Why worry about long-term side effects when there is no more long term? If the pet has an accident in the house or is more groggy from the drug, we don't care as much as we did before the appointment was made. We go ahead and give full doses of all of the pain medications we can, and our pets experience better pain relief and a happy high shortly before they are euthanized.
Whatever the reason, the majority of veterinarians have either seen or heard of this “pre-euthanasia improvement,” so if you experience it with your own pet, know it’s normal. Also know that it is not wrong to proceed with the euthanasia anyway, if that is what you want. It may be better to do it that way and have your pet leave the world feeling good than to cancel the appointment and have an “emergency euthanasia” on a subsequent, really awful day. And, please, if you are having difficulty with the decision of euthanasia or the loss of a pet, reach out for support.
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VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.