How do you know when it's time for them to go? End-of-life care for pets

Helping a beloved pet at the end involves tough decisions, and a vet is helping with a workshop on end-of-life care for animals.

Vet giving workshop on how to make those tough decisions for your best friend

Dr. Peter Foley from the Atlantic Veterinary College examines Shortbread. He'll give a workshop on pets and end-of-life issues Thursday. (Atlantic Veterinary College)

Anyone who has owned a pet reaching old age, or going through a life-threatening illness, knows there are hard choices involved.

There are treatments available, but at some point you may have to decide whether to continue the care, or if the animal is suffering too much.

To help with those decisions, Dr. Peter Foley, assistant professor in small animal internal medicine from the Atlantic Veterinary College is giving a public workshop on Thursday, March 9.

"Commonly I see my clients struggling with the decision when is euthanasia right for their animal, and how are they going to know when it's time to euthanize," Dr. Foley told Angela Walker on CBC Mainstreet. "So because of that, a lot of struggling, a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern goes into those decisions."

Quality of life

The decision is often about quality of life for the pet, Foley said.

"Is the animal enjoying its life, or has life become a burden for the animal? And knowing whether there are any palliative options that can provide good quality of life, or have we really exhausted all options for that animal," he said.

Pet owners face tough choices when illness or old age means treatment, and there are various options that need to be considered along with a vet's advice. (CBC)

It's also best when the vet and the client work together.

"What the veterinarian brings is a knowledge of what's happening in the animal's body and what the prognosis is. So the veterinarian is in a position to say how the animal is likely to be feeling, how this disease is going to progress, what the next changes are going to be," said Foley.

Owner knows their pet

"The client brings much more of an understanding of what that individual animal is like, what that animal loves to do, what makes the animal happy and gives life meaning for it, and they're better able to tell whether this animal has had enough."

There are lots of ways vets can make the last days for a pet easier, from palliative chemotherapy for cancer sufferers, to various pain control measures to drugs that help them keep their appetite.

A pet's final care should be a team decision, with the vet explaining health options, and the owner deciding when the animal is no longer happy or comfortable. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)
Those options can get expensive.

'Tough choices'

"That's a source of anxiety and guilt for the client as well, because they have to balance their finances," said Foley. "They have lots of priorities in their life, they have to make some tough choices over whether just because an option is available, is it a good use of their money, is it something that is valuable to that animal to pursue that."

Dr. Foley is leaving lots of time in the workshop for questions from pet owners. It's happening Thursday, March 9 at 7 p.m. in Lecture Theatre A at the Atlantic Veterinary College.

From the Mainstreet interview by Angela Walker