Introduction: This is perhaps the most difficult section to write for this manual, and probably the most difficult to read for many. The hope is that what is written here will be of assistance during a very difficult time for pet owners who may be facing the inevitable decline in health of a beloved family pet.

Euthanasia is the deliberate ending of the life of an animal that is often associated with a debilitating and incurable disease. The intent of euthanasia is to mercifully end suffering. Because many differing opinions exist regarding the ethics of euthanasia, it is a delicate subject to discuss. Some may view euthanasia as an alternative for a variety of situations, while others may not see euthanasia as an option for any situation. While the intent of writing this section is not to take sides or support any particular view, specific opinions on the justifications for euthanasia of animals will be offered toward the end of this writing. The intent of this discussion is to educate and be of assistance in making that difficult decision for anyone facing the possible euthanasia of a pet.

Discussion: It is a simple fact of life that pets generally do not live as long as humans. Veterinary medicine has helped extend the average life-span of dogs through the benefits of preventative medicine. Many chronic illnesses in pets can now be managed for an extended period of time. These wonderful advances, beneficial as they are, can only accomplish so much. Death, while it is upsetting to many, must be accepted as part of the cycle of life for all living creatures. Acceptance is the first step in dealing with a terminally ill pet.

The end of an animalís life may be calm and painless; it may also be fraught with great suffering and pain. When an animal is faced with a situation which causes pain and suffering, regardless of what that situation is, veterinarians are taught to relieve that suffering. The oath which all new veterinarians take upon graduation states: "I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the...relief of animal suffering... ." Euthanasia is one method of relieving suffering in animals. There are other methods for the relief of terminal suffering, most involving the use of pain-killing drugs. If euthanasia is not selected, another method to relieve pain should be chosen in its place.

Timing of euthanasia is almost as difficult a decision as whether or not to euthanize an animal. In discussions with many owners seeking advice on when to request euthanasia for a terminally ill pet, the concept of "quality of life" is often addressed. Because it is a matter of varying opinion, no dictionary defines this term. For this discussion, the true signs of suffering in animals include severe pain, confusion, complete loss of appetite, uncontrollable seizures or vomiting, and severe weakness. Quality of life in these situations is generally gone and the suffering must be relieved.

In those situations where chronic illness slowly robs a dog of its quality of life, the timing is more difficult. Attempts at management or slowing down the disease process are recommended. These attempts can buy more quality time for the pet before the disease causes true suffering. There is a gray area on the timing of euthanasia; suffering should be prevented, yet the patient should be allowed the maximum quality time left to it. While the decision is not easy for anyone, it is best made by the person or people who are closest to the animal, with the assistance of the regular veterinarian. These are the people who can read signs of suffering and best assess the petís quality of life.

Occasionally, a veterinarian will strongly advise euthanasia if he/she can determine that the animalís suffering is beyond reasonable medical assistance, or if the assessment reveals that unmanageable suffering is imminent. In these situations, the veterinarian is often the best judge of the proper timing of euthanasia in order to prevent severe suffering.

One other reasonable situation exists when euthanasia is strongly recommended: that of severe behavior problems in dogs, especially aggression directed toward humans. These situations should be addressed on an individual case-by-case basis. For additional information regarding aggressive behavior, refer to page E68.

Conclusion: To summarize, euthanasia is an option available for the relief of suffering and pain which cannot be treated. The decision to euthanize and the timing of euthanasia are best determined by the people who are most intimate with the dog, aided by the advice of the patientís regular veterinarian. Euthanasia is a merciful procedure to be used for the relief or prevention of suffering or pain, or to destroy an aggressive animal that is a threat to human safety.