It is our responsibility to give our pets a peaceful passage | The young witness


We love our pets so much that it can be really hard to even consider saying goodbye, but the reality is we have to do it at some point.

And the truth is, most vets have experienced this more than once with their own animals.

We know it hurts to lose them.

The average lifespan of a dog is 12 years, while the average lifespan of a cat is longer at 15 years.

Due to accidents, diseases and the influence of genes, some animals live shorter lives.

But some animals live longer. The average maximum the reported lifespan of a dog is 17 years and 18 years for cats.

Nevertheless, it is very likely that we will outlive our companions.

What do you want for your companion at the end of his life?

Many of my clients tell me that they would prefer their companion to die peacefully and painlessly in their sleep, with minimal suffering before these last moments.

While that would be wonderful and relieve us of the burden of making decisions on behalf of our companions, such an end-of-life experience is very rare for animals.

A recent retrospective review of the medical records of 29,676 dogs registered in general practices in the UK found that the vast majority – 89.3% – had been euthanized by a veterinarian, while only 8.3% died unaided.

A smaller study from New Zealand reported a similar rate, with 91 percent of 68 dogs and 130 cats being euthanized, while nine percent died unaided.

Not all unassisted deaths are peaceful.

Deaths classified as “unassisted” in the above studies were not performed by a veterinarian, but did include deaths from trauma and traffic accidents.

Not all assisted deaths involved animals with terminal illness. In the UK study, unwanted behavior was the fourth most common reason for euthanasia, accounting for over seven percent of cases.

So what does all of this mean?

This means that while some animals may die a “natural” death without assistance, the majority of pet owners will likely have to make the decision to euthanize an animal at some point.

In most cases, euthanasia is performed on an animal that is approaching or exceeding the average lifespan, if its quality of life deteriorates.

The British study found that the main reason for euthanasia was the poor quality of life.

Of course, animals change with age. A dog who loved to play when he was young may be content to sleep most of the day. A cat that was jumping can avoid doing so.

Vets can do a lot these days to improve the quality of life of sick or aging animals.

Aging is an irreversible process. Many diseases cannot be cured – only managed.

To ensure a minimum of suffering to our companions, it is important that measures are taken to keep them comfortable, and that their quality of life is regularly assessed by a veterinary team.

Even if you hope that your pet will die peacefully, the reality is that this is not always the case.

It is important to talk to your veterinarian about what to do if your pet’s quality of life deteriorates or what to do in an emergency (for example, a dog with heart disease well managed who is starting to have trouble breathing).

Choosing when to say goodbye to a pet is difficult, but your veterinarian team is here to support you.

One thing we can do is make sure these final moments are peaceful and painless.

Gates, MC; Hinds, HJ; Dale, A. Preliminary Description of the Aging of Cats and Dogs Presented to a New Zealand First Notice Veterinary Clinic at End of Life. NZ Vet J 2017, 65, 313-317.

Pegram, C .; Gray, C .; Packager, RMA; Richards, Y .; Church, DB; Brodbelt, DC; O’Neill, DG Proportion and risk factors for death from euthanasia in dogs in the UK. Scientific reports 2021, 11, 9145.

Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practicing veterinarian.


About Norman Griggs

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