Veterinarian Hanna Ekstrom, left, who owns At Home Vet, a house-call practice in Woodinville, answers this week's questions about euthanasia as part of our series on the health issues of senior dogs. We also are including photos and vignettes from Seattle Times staff members in memory of dogs that have come and gone in their...

hanna1.jpgVeterinarian Hanna Ekstrom, left, who owns At Home Vet, a house-call practice in Woodinville, answers this week’s questions about euthanasia as part of our series on the health issues of senior dogs. We also are including photos and vignettes from Seattle Times staff members in memory of dogs that have come and gone in their lives.

Question: Under what circumstances do most of your cases take place?

Answer: Most of the pets I see for end-of-life care are geriatric pets who have lived a full life, have just reached the end of the trail in one way or another, seem ready to pass but are having trouble doing it on their own.

For example, many large-breed dogs suffer from hip dysplasia and arthritis. Near the end, they may not be able to rise on their own, and many of them are incontinent, which can result in urine scald and bed sores.

Despite the best care by both the pet’s owner and veterinarian, sometimes controlling their pain is just not possible; patient management is a nightmare unless you are home all day, up much of the night and able to comfortably lift 100 pounds or so.

These pets could hang on for many months or even years, so many owners feel it is kindest to “set them free” from their pain.

I also see a fair number of younger pets that are in crisis for a medical issue, for example, a cat with fluid in the chest or a dog with a heart-based tumor. These pets are unlikely to have a distress-free natural death, so most people will elect humane euthanasia, either in a clinic or at their home.

I personally do not want any pet’s last minutes on earth to be filled with suffering or fear: Better a day, a week or even a month too early than a day too late. Our pets are so lucky that we can help them pass peacefully when it is their time.

Question: Euthanizing a pet can be one of the most difficult decisions an owner faces. Do you have criteria for clients who ask whether they should euthanize their pet?