Euthanasia Decision

This article was published in The Union Newspaper September 2018 as a part of their “Paws and Claws” featured section. Dr. Janeway has a monthly article where she answers questions from the general public about their pets. Questions can be submitted via the clinic email, Facebook page or this website.

Dear Dr. Janeway,
I have to tell you that I really enjoy the Brighton Greens Facebook page! It is so informative!
I did notice there has not been any discussion about euthanasia and I have a difficult question to ask. I think it may be time to have my 10 year old German Shepherd “Captain” put to sleep, but I am not sure if it is the right time. He is a very special dog to me, he has been with me through some tough times. I have noticed over the past year that he has really declined. He falls down sometimes and has a hard time with his back legs/hips. Also, he has lost a lot of weight and is not eating as well as he used to. He used to eat his food almost as soon as it was put into his dish, now the food might sit there for a day or two. I add chicken and other meat to try to entice him to eat, that helps a little bit. I feel guilty for even considering having him put to sleep. Please help!
Sad Owner

Hi Sad,
I am so sorry to hear that Captain has not been doing well. I would need to perform a physical exam to make a diagnosis, but it sounds like he probably has some orthopedic issues that are common in older German Shepherd dogs. I agree, it is concerning that he is not eating well, especially if he is not usually a picky eater and weight loss in older dogs is always worrisome. I think that you should consider bringing him in for an exam and possibly a full blood panel and maybe even an abdominal ultrasound to try to find the underlying cause of his anorexia. His condition may be easily treated with medications or other therapies. If his condition is not treatable that knowledge may give you the support you need to make the difficult decision of humane euthanasia, or if you do not feel Captain is ready we can provide him with Hospice care.
It can be difficult for owner’s to know when it is the right time to consider euthanasia of their pet. The simple answer is- when your pet no longer has Quality of Life. Quality of life for pets is something we think about a lot about as veterinarians. We try to improve the quality of life for animals through preventative care, treatment and palliative care as needed. As an owner, you know Captain better than anyone, do you feel he is enjoying life? Does he eat, go outside, move around normally, does he seem to be happy?
Another option is to use the Quality of Life Scale developed by Dr. Villalobos. This scale is also known as the HHHHHMM scale. HHHHHMM stands for: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility and More good days than bad. You can find the entire HHHHHMM scale on our website in more detail. This scale can provide owner’s with a more objective way to evaluate their pet’s quality of life.
Sad- you should not feel guilty for considering euthanasia for your pet. Honestly humane euthanasia is the most loving thing you can do for an animal that is suffering or no longer has quality of life. Again, I am so sorry you are going through this with Captain. I truly hope this information has been helpful for you. I urge you to bring Captain in for evaluation so we can discuss his condition further.

Dr. Robin Janeway is an owner of Brighton Greens Veterinary Hospital in Grass Valley, Ca (near the fairgrounds). Your question can be the topic for next month’s article! Visit our facebook page to submit your questions.

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