The Human-Animal bond embraces love and respect for companion animals in society. People are emotionally shocked when their beloved pet is diagnosed with life-limiting or advanced stages of disease. Pet lovers are demanding that veterinarians step up to provide more comprehensive end of life services for their pets as long as the pet is able to maintain a good quality of life(QoL). Many veterinarians don’t know about or avoid the challenges that come with end of life care. Why is that? Many veterinarians say that they are obligated to prevent and relieve animal suffering and they feel that end of life care drags out the inevitable. This might sound insensitive to many readers of this book, but most veterinarians try to do what they feel is right. It might be that until recently, veterinary education focused on only three stages of life: the puppy and kitten stage, the adult stage and the senior stage. There is a true “Fourth Stage of Life” that has been bypassed, yet it might last for quite a while. That fourth stage of life, which the love and tenacity within the human-animal bond will no longer bypass, is “The End of Life Stage.” Since it is all about QoL, how an one evaluate, measure or define QoL?
Society accepts that humane euthanasia (well, death) for companion animals is indeed the best option when QoL is lost or the best way to mercifully end pointless suffering. This viewpoint may have served the veterinary profession and society adequately in the past. But today, pet lovers want more options when their pets are aging or are diagnosed with life-limiting disease or cancer. Modern pain management, high tech medicine and good nursing care can restore and maintain QoL for longer periods. Caregivers want to extend the timeline between the diagnosis of a terminal disease and death for their companion animals.
Society’s wish to provide end of life care for companion animals raises lots of bioethical questions such as: What are one’s obligations to their companion animal? Must all of the disorders in my companion animals be addressed? Is palliative care (treating symptoms without intent to cure) good enough? How can one evaluate or assess an animal’s QoL? How can one restore and maintain QoL? How will I know when it is the right time to make the final call for the gift of euthanasia? What if my religious or personal beliefs about my animals are not in alignment with my community?
All pet caregivers have an obligation to properly assess their pets’ QoL and to maintain the best quality of life for their animals as possible. Society agrees that people have an obligation to confront the issues that ruin the QoL of their animals such as: cruelty,starvation, dehydration, confinement, untreated and undiagnosed suffering and neglect. These issues and an animal’s needs are particularly important when families are caring for aging, ailing or terminally ill pets. Alice Villalbos, DVM – www.SeniorDogBooks.com