It's not easy to say goodbye to cherished pets, even those that have lived long, happy lives. Although you may hate the thought of life without your pet, euthanasia can be the kindest decision you can make when your friend is suffering.
Making the Decision
If your pet has been seriously injured in a horrible accident and is not expected to recover, euthanasia is clearly the most humane option. The choice is not always so clear in other situations. Ups and downs are common when pets suffer from chronic diseases, which can make the decision more difficult.
Evaluating Quality of Life
Does your pet still enjoy life, despite the illness or condition? If your pet is in constant pain or discomfort, despite medical treatment, and does not seem to get any enjoyment out of life, it may be time to consider euthanasia. Signs that your pet may have a poor quality of life include:
- Pain That Cannot Be Controlled with Medication. In many cases, pets can continue to enjoy life if their pain is relieved by medications. When medication no longer helps, it may be the right time for euthanasia. If you have difficulty gauging the pain level, ask your pet's veterinarian for input.
- Constant Gastrointestinal Issues. As your pet becomes sicker, vomiting and diarrhea can become daily occurrences. Not surprisingly, these issues can cause your furry friend to lose weight and become dehydrated and lethargic.
- Difficulty Breathing. Is every breath a struggle for your pet? Trouble breathing can be very uncomfortable and even painful.
- No Interest in Favorite Activities. Seriously ill pets often lose interest in their favorite activities, such as playing fetch, taking walks through the neighborhood or snuggling up next to you on the couch.
- Prognosis. Have you talked to your pet's veterinarian about his or her prognosis? In some cases, even aggressive treatment will not save your companion, but will prolong suffering. When your pet's prognosis is poor, euthanasia can prevent unnecessary suffering.
- Incontinence: At some point, a seriously ill pet may no longer to control its bladder or bowels.
- Inability to Walk: As your pet becomes weaker, walking can become an issue. Mobility can also be an issue if a stroke or other condition affects your pet's hind legs. Slings can help older dogs get up and navigate short distances and specialty designed wheelchairs can help pets with limb immobility and may be a good choice if your pet is in otherwise good health – be sure to ask your vet about options.
Who Should Be Involved in the Decision?
Including all family members or other members of your household in the decision can prevent hurt feelings during an already emotional time. Explain that your pet will not recover from the illness or condition and is suffering, despite the excellent care you have provided. Even younger children can be involved in the discussion if you use age appropriate language. Although immediate euthanasia may be needed to prevent suffering in severe circumstances, the procedure can be delayed long enough to allow enough time for everyone who cares about your pet to say goodbye in most situations.
What Happens Next?
After you make the decision, you will need to contact your pet's veterinarian to make arrangements and ask any questions you may have regarding euthanasia including at-home options. You will also want to consider burial and cremation options.
Are you facing a difficult decision regarding your pet's health? Call us and we can help you consider all of the options.
The Euthanasia Process
Before the process begins, you will need to decide if you want to stay with your pet. Some people find comfort in being with their pets in their final minutes and many vets allow and encourage pet owners to be with their pets through the euthanasia process. While it may be difficult for you, accompanying your beloved pet to the very end can provide you both with comfort and closure.
Your pet's comfort is the primary concern during the euthanasia process. He or she may be given a sedative that will cause drowsiness. After the sedative takes effect, the veterinarian injects sodium pentobarbital in a front or hind leg. The drug causes your pet to become unconscious, then stops the heart. Death usually occurs just a few minutes after your pet receives the injection.
Although your pet has died, you may notice some movement or muscle twitching in its body for a few minutes after death. At the time of death, it's also common for the bladder and bowels to release. You will be able to spend some time alone with your pet after the procedure. If you plan to bury your pet, you will take his or her body with you or arrange for pet cemetery employees to pick it up. If you prefer cremation, your veterinarian's office will call you when the ashes are ready for pick up.
American Humane: Euthanasia: Making the Decision
The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement: Euthanasia of a Beloved Pet
ASPCA: End of Life Care