Pet Care: Concern About Convenience Euthanasia

I was reading a recent issue of DVM Magazine that included a discussion of “convenience euthanasia.” Perhaps like many, I had to pause and consider what “convenience euthanasia” was. The briefest definition is when a pet parent requests that a pet be euthanized for reasons other than to end suffering due to a medical issue. This definition is very broad and potentially includes pets that might be euthanized for a host of non-medical reasons, including lifestyle and economic reasons. As a dog lover and pet care professional, I have to tell you, it was pretty easy to jump to “no way is this ok!” Really, I thought, even if the pet doesn’t fit within your “lifestyle” or if there are economic reasons why you can’t provide for your pet, there is another family or a shelter that will love and care for your pet.

The article I was reading was focused on how individual veterinarians should respond to a request for convenience euthanasia. It warned veterinarians not to judge their clients without understanding their clients and knowing what is going on in their clients’ life. I have to admit that I thought this was kind of a cop out answer. Again, what would justify the decision to euthanize a pet when there was not a medical reason to do so or when viable medical options to avoid euthanizing the pet existed?

Well, late last week Pet Camp confronted this issue head on. On Friday evening around 5:30, Mauricio, one of the Pet Camp managers, noticed an eight year old, moderately sized dog that he thought had a slightly distended abdomen and “just didn’t seem right.” We were worried that the dog might be “bloating.” For those of you who don’t know the term, bloat is the colloquialism for GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus), when, for reasons we don’t understand, a dog’s stomach fills with gas and sometimes flips on its axis. This is a huge deal and requires prompt attention. We watched the dog for about 5 minutes and then decided that something might be up, and we were off to an emergency veterinarian.

I drove the dog to the veterinarian and was there before 6:00. The dog was active and chatty the entire drive, he jumped out of the Pet Camp Express and trotted into the veterinarian’s’ office. Frankly, at this point I thought we had “wasted” a trip to the veterinarian and in a few moments and a few hundred bucks later the veterinarian would confirm all was well. I was stunned when the x-rays showed GDV. I immediately authorized that the dog be stabilized and prepped for surgery while we reached out to the pet parent to update them on the situation (we had already called to let them know we were concerned and going to the veterinarian).

At this point in the day I was proud. The Pet Camp counselors had spotted bloat so early that the dog was barely displaying symptoms when I got to the veterinarian. The veterinarian had easily stabilized the dog and the prognosis for surgery looked good. The veterinarian spoke with the owner about bloat and the necessary surgical response. Well, yup you guessed it, the pet parent declined the surgery based on the $5,000 to $7,000 estimate, and the dog was put to sleep.

So, is this a case of convenience euthanasia? Did the pet parent make the right call by not authorizing surgery that they didn’t think they could afford, or is this exactly what a VISA card is for?  I have had two Great Danes bloat and in both cases I authorized surgery. One dog did great but one was never the same. Would it matter if the pet parent in this case had been through bloat in the past and just wasn’t convinced that, even if surgery was successful, that a successful recovery was likely? This is a pet care dilemma that cannot be taken lightly.

What would you do? What do you think?