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Help: It’s time to euthanize but my family is in denial

Hopefully given a bit of time and some extra information, your family is able to understand your position.

Dr. Bethany Hsia

July 17, 2023

Deciding when to euthanize is heartbreaking enough, but the process becomes exponentially more painful when family or friends disagree with your decision. Given the support of your pet’s veterinarian, ultimately the choice is yours. But what can you do when your family just doesn't see it the same way? Here are six pointers to help you navigate a denial dilemma:

Recognize the Common Ground

As painful as it is to disagree on such a difficult topic, your family’s dissent shows an underlying love and concern for your pet. There is beauty there. Reassuring your family that you appreciate their relationship with your pet and that you respect their feelings can help you all establish a common ground.

Give Time

If you have just shared the news with your family, it’s highly possible that they just need a little bit of time to process. Of the five stages of grief, denial is listed and often experienced first. The other stages include anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance and may come intermingled in ebbs and flows. Once your family has had a moment or more for the initial shock to subside, they may be better able to listen and understand your pet’s situation.

Share the Facts

If you believe that euthanasia is the proper course of action it’s because you have seen your pet suffering or you know that suffering is imminent. Perhaps you’ve seen the radiographs, or your veterinarian has explained the changes in your pet’s lab tests, maybe you’ve seen your pet struggling to eat, to move about, or to rest comfortably.

Share this information with your family. You may find it helpful to guide them through a quality of life questionnaire so they can have an objective inside look at your thought process. Perhaps they would like to take the assessment themselves and compare their observations of your pet with yours. If you think it will be helpful, you can also record moments with your pet to show family what you are seeing. It is not your job to ensure that they arrive at the same decision but they may understand if they witness the struggles you see in private.

Form an Alliance

Hopefully given a bit of time and some extra information, your family is able to understand your position. However, even if they still don’t see things the same way, you can remind them that you, your veterinarian, and they, all care deeply about your pet’s well-being. It’s “Team Fluffy'' against “Fluffy’s” illness. While the illness may force your hand, you can still say your goodbyes on your terms.

Choosing euthanasia is a way to end the dying process that your pet’s illness has already begun. Share your goals and fears as a team and invite your family to participate in making some of the decisions. Would they like to participate in a ‘bucket list’ day? What activities should be included? Would they like to take pictures with or of your pet? Would they want to be present for the euthanasia? Where would be the most suitable location?

How will you memorialize your pet? Which do you fear more: euthanizing a day too early or a day too late? While your team may be powerless to stop the disease, you can still create beautiful lasting memories together; rather than having to react to an emergent change in your pet’s condition.

Find Support

Facing the passing of a beloved pet is hard, you don’t have to do it alone. Whether or not your family comes around to your point of view, additional support is available. There are communities of pet parents who are facing loss or have already lost pets. Support groups are available for in person meetings, digital meetings, or online forums. Professional grief counselors can help guide you to the tools and resources best suited to your needs. Your family may also benefit from such additional support as they process through their own grief.

Trust Yourself

As your pet’s guardian you are the responsible party for all decisions surrounding their needs. You make choices for them day in and day out. Whether you have been your pet’s caretaker for their entire life or you’ve recently taken on the cherished responsibility- you have their best interest at heart.

Once you have weighed all the information from your veterinarian, quality of life assessments, and your own observations you can be confident in your decision. Give yourself the freedom to change your mind if YOU think it may not be the right choice. But if you know in your heart that euthanasia is the next appropriate step you can move forward without guilt.

About

Dr. Bethany graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. After graduation, she moved west. Dr. Bethany spent a year at a small animal exclusive practice in Washington state, where she was first introduced to in-home euthanasia. She gravitated towards helping pet parents and their pets in their last moments when it seemed other doctors did not find an interest. Growing up, Bethany had many childhood pets and occasionally tended to injured wildlife. The ability to calm and comfort animals seemed to come naturally to her. Dr. Bethany believes a peaceful passing is the last gift we give our pets and that it’s a gift best given at home. In her spare time, Dr. Bethany enjoys reading and running, although her favorite time is spent together with her husband and their young children. Read More