Vet Talk

Making Life or Death Decisions is Painful and Scary

Make your decisions based on your life at that point in time

Published: January 16, 2017

What should I do graphic Oursler

We started VetzInsight in late 2011. I joined the writing team in December, 2012, when I wrote about finding a little lost dog on the highway. Since then, I have helped write and edit over 200 articles. Our aim has always been to educate both the pet-owning public as well as veterinarians. In that process, we learned a lot from you and about you, the pet owners of the world. Three of our articles really stand out in numbers of readers and number of commenters: Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes it is the Best ChoiceDoctor You Aren’t Listening to Me – What if I Do Nothing?; and The Nightmare that is Blocked Cats. Thousands of readers have sent hundreds of comments, some intended for other readers, some intended for the writers.

What do those articles have in common? They are about making life or death decisions.

Most of our readers find us when they are looking for data to help support their thoughts and decisions. Some are looking for validation of the decision they have already made. Some are looking for data and information about the disease before making a decision, and others just need to share their pain.

When you go looking for opinions on the internet, realize that you will find those who agree with you and those who do not, because even with all of the facts, there is NO one right answer, there are just too many variables! While it is easy to take others’ internet comments to heart, realize that they do not know you or the entire story. When reading a stranger’s words, remember those words, even if directed at you, are a reflection of the author. Those who are spewing vitriole are projecting their pain and guilt about decisions they have made in their life. Feel bad for them, having to live with those emotions, then turn off the computer and walk away. Do not internalize their pain, just be glad you do not have to live with it.

Life or death decisions would be a lot easier to make if only we could look into the future and know how things were going to play out. If any of us had a crystal ball, we would use it to decide which scenario will play out:

  • This patient’s diabetes will be easily controlled on twice daily injections, cost little to treat and he will live a good life for another three years. It is worthwhile to treat.
  • This patient’s diabetes is never going to be well controlled, he will continue to lose weight and have several seizures due to hypoglycemia; euthanizing now is the best option due to poor quality of life.
  • This patient’s diabetes will be easily controlled, but he will die from heart disease next month, so we can treat for the next month, knowing he will die shortly from heart disease.
  • This patient’s diabetes will be hard to control and it will be expensive and time consuming to do so. Treatment can continue with those facts in mind.
  • This aggressive dog can live happily and safely in another household.
  • This aggressive dog can be helped significantly and safely with behavior modification.
  • Nothing we do can make this aggressive dog safe, euthanizing now is the best option for everyone’s safety and quality of life.
  • This blocked cat will never block again, so treating now is a great idea.
  • This blocked cat will gladly change to a canned food diet, you can take him home and start right away and he will never block again.
  • This blocked cat will re-block again, and again, and again, requiring surgery and your cat will continue to be sick between surgeries. Euthanizing now is the best option

The list goes on and on for many other possible scenarios. Unfortunately, NONE of us has a working crystal ball!

So when you make your decisions, realize that you make your decisions based on your life at that point in time, with the data on hand. Only you, and those who know you, have insight into:

  • Your own physical, mental and emotional health
  • Who is currently living in your home that will be affected by your decision.  
     o Did you just lose a close family member?  
     o Are you caring for a sick child or aging parent?   
     o Are you caring for another sick pet at the same time?
  • How your pet may respond to being treated.
    o Can he tolerate being hospitalized?
    o Can he tolerate twice daily injections?
    o What other concurrent health issues does he have?
  • Your current financial situation
    o Do you have children in college?
    o Have you just gone through a divorce or separation?
    o Did you just change jobs?
    o Did you just lose a job?

Realize also that the right answer today, for this pet, may be different for a future pet when circumstances may have changed. And what is right for you, may not be right for another person, and neither decision is wrong! I inadvertently offended a friend when they took my decision to treat my diabetic dog as condemnation of their decision not to treat. I was simply making the best decision for me, my family and that dog, at that time in my life. I did not even consider other people’s decisions when I made mine.

My take home message: make the best decision for you that day. Don't let those who don't know you second-guess you and your decision. Turn off the computer, call a friend, visit a family member or talk to a therapist about the decision already made or yet to be made. (The irony of my telling you to turn off the computer is not lost on me!) We all know that when make your decision with love and caring for you, your pet, and your family, that it is the right decision.

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