When Is It Time to Euthanize a Pet?

As a veterinarian, people often come to me for counsel on when it is time to euthanize their pet. These caring people face a tough dilemma. On the one hand, they do not want to rob their pet of life. On the other hand, they do not want their pet to suffer.  It is a tough decision that often leads to the comment, “I wish they could tell me what they want.” Well, pets do tell us in subtle ways when they are suffering.

Dr. Alice Villalobos has developed an assessment tool to help people with this difficult decision. The HHHHHMM Scale assigns looks at 7 different areas; hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and more good days than bad. A number for 0 to 10 is assigned to each category then tallied. According to Dr. Villalobos a score greater than 35 is viewed as an acceptable quality of life and warrants continued hospice care.  It is a wonderful tool that I recommend to my clients.

Here is the link: http://www.pawspice.com/downloads/QualityofLifeScale.pdf

Million Cat Challenge Hopes to Improve Adoption Rates of Shelter Cats

Across the United States, euthanasia rates for dogs surrendered to shelters are decreasing dramatically while those for cats are improving at a much slower rate. Two veterinarians, Dr. Julie Levy from the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and Dr. Kate Hurley from the University of California, Davis have launched “The Million Cat Challenge” to save more cats. They are asking shelters to focus on five initiatives to reduce stress in cats and make them more adoptable. The initiatives are:

1) Alternatives to intake: Unfortunately, a financial crisis is often the reason a family must surrender their pet. Pet food banks and discount veterinary care can often keep cats in their homes during the crisis.

2) Managed intake for non-emergency situations: Instead of taking the cat into the shelter immediately, an appointment system is used. During the initial visit, the cat is evaluated and vaccinated then sent back home. Two weeks later, when immunity has developed from the vaccination, the cat returns to the shelter.

3) Capacity for care: Shelters must evaluate how many cats they can properly handle. In addition to cages, that means having enough staff and play spaces to keep stress low in the cats waiting adoption.

4) Removing barriers to adoption: Drs. Levy and Hurley recommend decreasing adoption fees and making the screening process less burdensome. They sight several studies that demonstrate no ill effect on the pets.

5) Return to field: Since feral cats are often euthanized at shelters, the authors recommend what is commonly referred to as, ‘trap, neuter, release’. Personally, I have mixed emotions about this method of dealing with feral cats. Life as a feral is tough. They often die tragic deaths from disease or injury. Although feral cats help keep the rodent population in check, they also kill many birds and reptiles.


Lau, Edie, ‘Million Cat Challenge aims to reform shelter methods: Veterinarians leading campaign encourage shelters to share tactics’. VIN-News, December 31, 2014.

You Make The Diagnosis: Orthopedic Condition in Dogs

There are many orthopedic conditions in dogs that have a genetic basis. Pictured below are the front legs of a mixed breed dog. This happy-go-lucky guy has a unique confirmation of his front legs. Study the image and then answer the following questions: 1) What is the name of this condition? 2) What breed is most commonly affected? 3) What causes it to occur? 4) How will this condition affect the dog’s long-term health?

Valgus in dog closeup

Diagnosis: Angular Limb Deformity – Valgus

Valgus is a term used to describe the outward bowing of a leg.  When it occurs in the back legs, the condition is often described as “knock kneed” or “cow hocked”.  It occurs during the rapid growth phase when the two bones in the front leg, the radius and ulna, grow at uneven rates causing the leg to bow.  I see it most in Bassets, Corgi’s and Dachshunds where it is an inherited condition. Other breeds may also develop a valgus limb deformity after damaging their growth plates as a puppy.

Angular limb deformity causes abnormal weight bearing and excessive stress on the joints. Affected dogs often suffer from a mechanical lameness meaning they simply can’t move the joint to walk normally. Over time, osteoarthritis develops causing severe pain.  My next blog will cover treatment options for this condition.

Severe Dental Disease in a Dog

A thorough examination of the mouth should be part of every physical examination of all animals. I never know what to expect when I lift the lip or open a pet’s mouth. Recently, I lifted the upper lip of a dog and found severe dental disease. The upper incisors were infected and the gum had receded so far that I could see most of the roots. (See picture below)

k9 Teeth in place

The teeth were hanging by a thread. When removed, I could look into the dog’s nose!

Extracted Incisors closeup

I extracted all four of these teeth, cleaned out the infection and then closed the area with a gum flap. The dog made a complete recovery.  Before the surgery, this dog licked his lips and nose constantly. Now, he only licks after eating to clean his nose.

Dental disease is a serious problem in pets. It can lead to excruciating pain.  Please check your pet’s mouth regularly to catch problems early. Also, pay attention to abnormal behaviors such as excessive licking, biting, chewing or rubbing. Your pet may be telling you they have a problem and need help.

Two Horses Confirmed with Vesicular Stomatitis Virus in Arizona

On January 8, 2014, the Arizona Department of Agriculture announced vesicular stomatitis was diagnosed in two horses living in Santa Cruz County, Arizona.  This viral disease causes painful blisters and ulcers on the mouth, nose and tongue of horses. In cattle, it also affects the hooves and udder.  The virus may infect people causing flu-like symptoms. Treatment is symptomatic and animals are quarantined until the ulcerations have healed. Currently, there are no USDA approved vaccines available.

Besides causing economic loss, Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) is also important because the clinical signs are similar to more well known Foot and Mouth Disease of cattle. Therefore, all suspected cases must be reported to the appropriate governmental agencies.


-Arizona Department of Agriculture, Three Santa Cruz County Properties Quarantined Due to Contagious Virus: Positive Diagnosis of Vesicular Stomatitis Virus in 2 Horses. Arizona Department of Agriculture News Release, January 8, 2015.