Pet euthanasia: Finding peace putting animals down

As much as their owners would like them to, pets don't live forever — at some point, many people need to have a difficult conversation with their veterinarian about euthanasia.

'I'm notorious for turning euthanasias into wakes, if I can,' says vet columnist

Veterinarian Ted Morris said putting pets down can be a compassionate and peaceful time, albeit a difficult conversation. (Getty Images)

As much as their owners would like them to, pets don't live forever — at some point, many people are forced to have a difficult conversation with their veterinarian about euthanasia.

Dr. Ted Morris spoke with Daybreak Alberta this week about when it's time to consider putting your pet down.

Here is an edited version of their conversation.

Q. How often do you see pet owners struggle with this?

A. All the time. It's a really difficult decision for people to make and it's a really personal one. 

Some people don't want to watch their pets go downhill at all. They want their memories of their pet to be when they were happy and healthy.

There's the flip side of that, some people won't let go until they know they've exhausted every possible avenue of treatment.

Veterinary students examine a cat at the CUPS pet health clinic. Dr. Ted Morris says quality of life is the most important thing to consider when it may be time to put your pet down. (CBC)

Q. How symbolic is putting a dog down?

A. It's a feeling of giving up. There's so much emotion wrapped up in it. Even with my own dog, I probably waited a week too long before bringing her in.

Q. What are some warning signs to watch for?

A. Look for symptoms like around the clock pain, daily vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite — not eating for 2 days or more and not being able to still do things that make them happy.

Q. When do you perform euthanasia with the pet owner present?

A. It's a mix. Many do stay. I would allow for owners to make decisions about the process. Whether it's bringing in a group of friends, lighting candles, saying prayers or playing music.

I'm notorious for turning euthanasias into wakes, if I can. We will do whatever you need.

Q. What do you say to those who refuse the process of euthanasia?

A. Whether a moral or religious issue, the focus then becomes palliative and longevity care. I'd recommend using a lot of painkillers.

If you have the time or dedication to do it, there's absolutely nothing wrong with hospice care. The only thing that's unacceptable is to do nothing.

We owe it to [animals], as compassionate pet owners, to do something to ease their end of life.

Q. When have you declined putting a pet down?

A. First, I'll find out what's going on, and see if there's an issue to be worked on.

The time I really won't do it is if it's for what vets call a "convenience-euthanasia," which is basically someone saying, "I don't want this perfectly healthy animal anymore. There's nothing wrong with them, but I just don't want them."

Euthanasia takes a bit of an emotional toll.

Q. Does it take a toll on you?

A. It's sad every time. I've known a lot of animals for their whole lives. I reserve it for pets who need it.

With files from Daybreak Alberta