Buster has a chronic disease that is gradually reducing his quality of life. He’s still eating, resting comfortably, and enjoying interactions with his people. Sooner or later, though, his condition will worsen to the point he can no longer enjoy any part of his day. This is when the dreaded option that no pet owner wants to face will arise: pet euthanasia or natural death.
Natural death is a concept that requires definition. In nature, our pet would die when he was no longer able to feed himself, evade stronger predators, survive climatic extremes, or when he fell victim to serious illness or injury. Nature would not patiently nurse him through a prolonged, chronic illness. No, nature would have purged Buster from the population without passion or prejudice as soon as he wasn’t fit enough to survive within the context of a purely natural life. That is what natural death is about.
In truth, the first time we vaccinate, deworm, sterilize, provide any other type of routine or emergency veterinary care, house, or even feed a pet, we effectively take nature out of the equation. Why, then, would we even consider it reasonable to expect nature to provide a humane ending to a life of which we spent every day denying and battling the effects of nature?
Long, slow, debilitating illness has nothing to do with nature. It has only to do with our ability to fight off nature. Allowing nature to step in under such unnatural circumstances often does not result in a kind death for the pet. Wasting away with sickness is rarely kind.
Pet euthanasia, on the other hand, is the humane end of life facilitated by man when deemed necessary. It is the final mercy extended to a wholly unnatural life. Euthanizing a pet is our last and most profound responsibility: a responsibility we assume the day we bring a pet into our lives and make him effectively dependent on us for his day-to-day existence. Pet euthanasia must be considered within the context of the animal’s life as well as his impending death. To euthanize a pet is to recognize our responsibility for making it possible for our pet to live long enough to fall victim to a terminal illness, as well as our responsibility for providing a compassionate and unselfish resolution.
There is no such thing as “natural death” in companion animals. Understanding that reality will put the critical choice of pet euthanasia or natural death into proper perspective.