These days it is less and less common for a pet to simply ‘die’. With the amazing advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living healthier and longer lives. Veterinarians are able to fix or treat many of the problems that pets run into. This means that very often owners are given advance notice that their pet has a terminal condition. This leaves the owner with a difficult decision concerning euthanasia. Whether the pet has a fatal medical condition or it is simply old, most pets these days are euthanized before they actually reach the point where they would die on their own.
This is why we need to think about euthanasia. There is no need for us to be utterly overwhelmed when we reach that critical situation. By understanding the process and making decisions BEFORE we get into that situation, we make the unfortunate circumstance at least a little bit easier. The first big question is when is it the right time to authorize euthanasia? There are two very important answers to that question: 1) Talk to your veterinarian. 2) Evaluate your pet’s quality of life. You need to talk to your vet, because your vet has the medical background to give you an idea of possible treatments, costs, and survival rates. Your vet will also be there to answer your questions about your pet. Veterinarians see many euthanasia cases. Even though euthanasia is a very hard and stressful part of their job, they are very good at judging when euthanasia is a good option. Your veterinarian is there to keep you from making a hasty decision if there are other options available. They can help you make the final difficult decision of letting your pet go.
Evaluating your pet’s quality of life is not as easy as it sounds. Once your pet gets old or sick, it is very hard to determine what is in its best interest. Even though it is a very emotional situation to be in, give your decision-making skills some credit. You have known your pet for years. Does it still do the activities it enjoys like walks, laying on the sofa, or looking out the window? Only you will know if life is not good anymore for your pet. Is your pet lethargic, embarrassed, or depressed? Does it appear to be in pain? When bad days outnumber good days, you should think seriously about euthanasia. There is a fine line between extending the life of your pet and prolonging its misery, but there IS a line. By looking at the quality of life of your pet and by being able to draw that line, you will be able to make the decision concerning euthanasia at the right time.
Euthanasia of a terminally sick pet is a humane decision. Sparing it from the unnecessary suffering at the end of its life is one of the final acts of love that you can give your pet. However, even though euthanasia is often a good decision, it’s not necessarily an easy one. By thinking about it ahead of time, it may be easier to accept it when the time comes.
If you’ve decided to euthanize your pet, what else should you prepare for? There are a few things you may want to take into consideration before the euthanasia. Decide how you will break the news to the rest of the family, especially if you have children. You will have to make the choice about whether or not you want to be present for the actual euthanasia. Some people prefer their pet to pass away surrounded by family, while some people feel too distraught at the thought of seeing their pet being put down. Some people don’t want their last memories of their pet to be those of euthanasia.
Euthanasia is a peaceful procedure for a pet, but sometimes there will be some vocalization, paw paddling, urination, and/or defecation. Although these seem like signs of distress, they are merely due to residual nervous system activity, and are not due to feelings that the pet has as it passes away. You will also want to talk to your veterinarian. Will you want any keepsakes? If you want the collar, or perhaps a lock of fur, make sure to make your wishes known ahead of time. Also, be prepared to pay the bill before the euthanasia. Most clinics bill you beforehand, so that you will not have to deal with the bill in an emotional state.
There are also a few options for your pet’s remains. If there is a question about the cause of death, you can request to have an autopsy done. You can have your pet’s remains taken away and disposed of. You can also have your pet cremated. Cremation is a very common option for pet owners. Most clinics offer either ‘private’ or ‘group’ cremation. Private cremation is more expensive and you will get your pet’s ashes back. Group cremation is done with other pets’ remains, and you will not get the ashes back. The last option for your pet’s remains is burial, but keep in mind that many counties do not allow the burial of pets.
Most importantly you must understand that just like with a human death, the death of a beloved family pet will come with grieving. Take time to mourn the loss of your pet, and to celebrate the wonderful life that you shared with it. There are many pet-loss support hotlines, especially at veterinary schools across the country. Do not hesitate to seek counseling if you find yourself overwhelmed by your pet’s death. Grieving is a normal process after euthanasia. Euthanasia is not a happy topic, but it is one that we must not ignore. Every pet will reach the end of its life some day. The more we understand the process of euthanasia, the easier it is to accept it.
By Ashley O’Driscoll – Pets.ca writer