Painful decisions about pets Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Sunday, 22 July 2012 07:30
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Dr Liesel van der Merwe

As our ability to treat disease improves, so our pets are getting older and are presenting with a new range of conditions.

Older dogs in the USA tend to die of neurological disease or neoplasia (cancer) and suffer from osteoarthritis for many of their senior years. In South Africa we are seeing more cancers due to advanced age, neurological disease and degeneration and also lots of heart failure in older, especially small breed dogs.

Young dogs can also have congenital conditions which can severely affect their quality of life. Instead of our pets dying, a decision of euthanizing often has to be made and this is a very difficult decision.
Each person manages this decision in his or her own way and as a veterinarian it is important that we “manage” the owner as well as the patient. I follow some guidelines to ensure that the patient doesn’t suffer unnecessarily because, in some situations, owners can be selfish in their bid not to lose their pets.

All medical or surgical procedures cause pain and discomfort - some more than others. This pain is managed as best as possible. Decisions to perform these diagnostic or palliative procedures should be based on expected outcome and prognosis.

Sometimes these diagnostic procedures are done to confirm a suspected cancer. This is often helpful to allow the owner to make a decision based on a 100% confirmed diagnosis. Sometimes, as with a lung mass, the surgery is more invasive and more factors such as expense, likely diagnosis, prognosis, the patient’s age and invasiveness of the procedure need to be taken into account to see if the end does indeed justify the means.

Some people want their pet to experience “no pain” at all – but all procedures cause some pain and discomfort - and if the chance of making a diagnosis is good, especially if there is an option of a treatable cause, then I would suggest that the procedure should be performed. The science of pain management in pets has advanced in recent years and many drugs are available to control pain in older patients.

Other owners want to try everything to prolong life when it is apparent that their pet is really struggling and the condition is terminal. Here vets will often recommend euthanasia. As an owner you should consider your pet’s quality of life. Do they deserve to endure a prolonged terminal illness?

One never feels that it is the right time . . . You always feel that you either waited too long or not long enough. These decisions are hard, so always examine your reasons carefully and make sure that you are not letting your pet hang on because of selfish reasons.

I could never understand why people would immediately euthanize a pet when a tumour was diagnosed - even though the quality of life was still good at that stage. Having gone through this with one of my own dogs I have realised that the knowledge that the day will come when you have to euthanize weighs heavily in the back of your mind and is often a constant thought when you are with your pet. For a family with children in a situation like this, euthanasia earlier rather than later is often the correct decision.

Euthanasia is very simple - it is a very strong anaesthetic and your animal is first anaesthetised after which the heart stops. They feel no pain. 

It is very important for owners to be with their pets when they are euthanized. This gives the pet the comfort of a familiar voice and also gives owners a sense that they were there and were the last thing their pet saw. However, owners should be calm before and during the event as our pets sense our moods and will be distressed if we are distressed. Leave the crying until after your pet is gone. The grieving process may take several months.

Never feel pressurised into getting a new puppy straight away if you are not ready, although sometimes filling the gap with another pet is the best thing to do. Remember that each pet is different. Don’t expect anyone to take the place of another; they just bring their own dimension to your life.

 
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