Almost every day, Dr. Holly Woltz counsels clients at Veterinary Services of Aiken that are going through the excruciating process of deciding when to let go. Her advice, which has evolved over the years, comes down to this: Identify five to six things your pet loves to do. If he or she can’t do at least half of them, it may be time to say goodbye.
“It’s better to do it a little bit too soon than to wait too long because you walk a tightrope of guilt,” Dr. Woltz says. “If it’s too soon, you wonder if you could have had a few more weeks, months, even days with them. Wait too long, and they’re falling down the stairs because they can’t walk well or vomiting because they’re in kidney failure.”
“A good relationship with your veterinarian really is crucial as you sort through all that,” she says.
It’s important to stay in regular contact with your veterinarian during this period. Young, healthy pets should be examined once a year, but older pets should visit at least every six months.
“When veterinarians know your pet well, we can see changes over time that owners may not notice because they’re too close and emotionally invested,” Dr. Woltz says. “We can point out that there is significant weight loss, a worrisome lump or a subtle lameness. We notice the differences from the last examination."
Medical advances have opened up a wide range of treatment options, but every situation and every family is different. A good veterinarian will be able to walk clients through which treatments have the best outcomes and which may not be the best solution in terms of achieving a high quality of life.
“If it’s a treatment for something such as cancer, liver problems or kidney failure, I will say, ‘You may not have too much more time with your pet.’ However, it might be a simple lameness or infection which can be treatable with medications.”
Eventually, barring catastrophic injury, even the healthiest of pets simply wear out over time, Dr. Woltz says.
Watch your pet closely over several days or weeks. Do they need assistance to stand or go up the stairs? Are there accidents in the house? Do they get lost outside and bark at strange times? Dr. Woltz adds "If every day is a struggle to live, then there is little quality of life."
“I think relief from suffering is a moral obligation,” Dr. Woltz says. “Done correctly, with sedation and surrounded by family, euthanasia is a final gift of love.”