Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never an easy task. According to Daily Mail, the world’s number one women’s tennis player, Serena Williams, recently shared that her canine companion Jackie crossed the Rainbow Bridge on social media.
Jackie was an aptly named Jack Russell Terrier who lived to the advanced age of 16 and notoriously traveled the globe with her human caretaker. She had been prominently featured on Williams’ social media accounts over the years.
Williams posted a series of photos of herself with Jackie over the years, including a shot from 1999 when she won her first US Open, on Instagram with this reflective caption:
“Today really is hard for me. My special friend in which I got at 17 (2 weeks before I won my very first Grand Slam) left me today. She was 16 years young and up until a few days ago was still sprinting. Her poor body gave out this morning and she had a way of telling me it was time for me to be brave and let her go. With my dad by my side we were able to say a loving goodbye. She was with me from 1999 until today and I miss her so much. I got out of the shower this afternoon and she was not there to lick my leg as she always did everyday to remind me how much she loved me. I feel so lucky to have such a special friend. Give your dog, cat, pet a big hug. #breakingheart #bff Jackie Baila Pete Williams I will miss you and your memory will live forever.”
Regardless of Jackie’s specific problems, it’s crucial to always keep in mind a pet’s overall quality of life when deciding when the time has come to say goodbye.
I refer to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement Quality of Life Scale when guiding my clients through the decision to continue supporting my patients’ lives or electing humane euthanasia.
Euthanasia is the life-ending procedure that we veterinarians must provide for our patients as part of veterinary practice. Chemicals that slow down, and ultimately stop, the heart, lungs, brain and other body systems of our pets are used to provide a peaceful and painless exit from our world. Every practitioner has his or her own preference in the exact combination of drugs used to achieve the effect of euthanasia. My experience over 16 years of practice has led me to use a two-drug sedative combination given as an intramuscular injection to start the process and achieve an appropriately sedated and pain-free state. Next comes an intravenous infusion of a barbiturate anesthetic, which stops function of the vital organs and humanely ends a pet’s life.
The Quality of Life Scale calls upon an owner to assign to his or her pet a numerical score of 0-10 (with 10 being ideal) for the following criteria:
HURT - Adequate pain control and breathing ability is of top concern. Trouble breathing outweighs all concerns. Is the pet’s pain well managed? Can the pet breathe properly? Is oxygen supplementation necessary?
HUNGER - Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the pet need a feeding tube?
HYDRATION - Is the pet dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough water, use subcutaneous fluids daily or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.
HYGIENE - The pet should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after eliminations. Avoid pressure sores with soft bedding and keep all wounds clean.
HAPPINESS - Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to family, toys, etc.? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be moved to be close to family activities?
MOBILITY - Can the pet get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk? Is the pet having seizures or stumbling?
MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD - When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be too compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware that the end is near. The decision for euthanasia needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly at home, that is okay.
The maximum score a pet can achieve is 70 (10s in all seven categories). If a pet’s score is 35 or greater, then the quality of life is still acceptably good. If a pet’s score is not quite at the desirable threshold of 35, then the owner can discuss with the overseeing veterinarian the aspects of the pet’s quality of life that need to be improved and determine if such can be done. If not, then euthanasia should be pursued.
My good thoughts go out to the Williams family for the loss of Jackie.
Have you ever had to put a beloved pet to sleep? Feel free to share your experiences in the below comments section.