Understanding those things we don’t always want to understand…
There comes a time, where all good things must come to an end…talk about a grim start to an article, but what I am wanting to talk about, is how we don’t want those good things to come to a grim end.
We get into this work because we want to keep all animals healthy and live each day to their fullest, whether that is the pet cat or dog, the athletic performance in our working dogs and horses, or maximise production in your livestock, and the worse part of our job doesn’t come from putting animals down, the worse part comes from seeing animals suffer and living a life that is not free from pain, disease or suffering.
One of the job roles that we have as veterinarians is having to euthanase animals, but we are also obligated legally under our Professional Code of Conduct and the Animal Welfare Act to be the judge and jury of what animals need to be euthansased and that includes animals that the owner or farmer hasn’t necessarily brought in to see us, expecting this outcome.
When an animal, no matter what species, is presented to us for an illness or injury, the animal is then under our care – and we are obligated under the above codes to see that the animal has the necessary treatment or pain management to maintain their quality of life. If a disease is not responding to treatment or pain management, meaning that there is no improvement in their condition, or they have deteriorated in their condition, then the animal must then be euthanased.
Quality of life is subjective depending on who is assessing this – no doubt about that. We generally base quality of life on a few basic necessities…
1) Eating/Drinking – is the animal eating and drinking well and keeping it down
2) Pooing/Peeing – Is the food coming out normally and without discomfort
3) Mobility – can this dog get around to do its daily routine without debilitating pain, including toileting in appropriate place
4) Behaviour – Is it doing its normal routine – or is it just lying there not wanting to get up and dull to its surroundings.
5) Weight – Is this animal maintaining its body weight or condition?
As veterinarians, over the years we see, treat and manage thousands of animals, we are educated to understand disease processes and how they affect animals, and in the first instance we would like to save everything, but at the end of the day, our loyalty is with the welfare of the animal and we will sometimes have to be the ones to tell you when its time is up.
This can be very upsetting for clients, and it is difficult and never easy telling clients that their animal needs to be euthanased. A lot of people, will say to me, “Oh I’ll just take him home then and see how he goes”. Unfortunately, we cannot just let you take the animal home and neglect further intervention, as at this point, quality of life is compromised, and this is not fair on the animal.
These animals, especially dogs, are tough – us vets have all seen them bought in after being slow to work that morning, and we go to get them out of the kennel 10mins after arriving and they have died. They will work until they drop. It is our responsibility to recognise when these animals are not right, and at times, we do have to take matters into our own hands to make sure that when their quality of life goes, that they are allowed a pain free and dignified end.
We want you to understand and be accepting of the decision, when it comes to making the call to euthanase, so remember, you can always request another opinion from another vet or one that you have a close relationship with.