This past weekend was a sad one for me. I had to perform one of the most difficult tasks in veterinary medicine…. euthanasia for an ailing dog or cat. I helped Fraulein, a grey faced Golden Retriever, and Lacey, a weakened Jack Russell Terrier, leave this world without unnecessary suffering.
Euthanasia in a dog or cat is the humane solution to end suffering.
This is not the standard definition, but it’s what euthanasia means to me as a veterinarian. Pet euthanasia is the humane termination of an animal’s life when there is no more merciful option.
It’s hard to do. It’s hard for the doctor. It’s hard for the pet’s family. But, fortunately, it’s not hard for the patient.
What is the Process of Pet Euthanasia?
There are different methods of terminating an animal’s life, some more humane than others. Due to updated guidelines on euthanasia and with the development of better medications, the process can be very peaceful and painless.
The best drugs actually “put the pet to sleep.” In other words, the patient lapses into a deep sleep or coma-like state so he is unaware when his body systems shut down. He won’t feel his heart stop or panic when he stops breathing. Organs may take a while to cease functioning, but the brain doesn’t recognize the actual time when it occurs. This lack of awareness makes euthanasia quite peaceful for the patient.
Should You Stay or Go During Euthanasia for Your Dog or Cat?
Many families ask my advice on whether they should be with their pet as his life ends and my feeble response is, “It depends.” It depends on your personal feelings. Ask yourself these questions when contemplating the end of life plan for your pet. It’s best to answer these questions before you are actually in the situation. That way you make objective, not emotional, decisions. So no matter how young or healthy your pet is, consider these questions:
- Do I want my last memory to be of her breathing in my arms?
- Do I want my last memory to be of him taking his last breath in my arms?
- Do I want the euthanasia performed at home or at the veterinary hospital?
- Are my children mature enough to understand why we are performing euthanasia?
- Do my children need to actually experience the end or will a respectful acknowledgment after death be sufficient closure?
- Do I want to bury my pet at home or in a pet cemetery?
- Do I want my pet cremated? Do I want his ashes returned to me?
- Is there a pet grief counselor available should I choose to see one?
The end of a life is a sad event, but it can be respectful and peaceful and painless with a little counseling and preparation. Here are some of the things I talk about before euthanizing a family pet.
If pet owners want to be with their pet, I give them the option of having the euthanasia performed at our clinic or in their homes. I place a catheter in the pet’s vein to aid in the intravenous administration of the medication. I give the family ample time for good-byes. I make sure they understand that the medication works quickly and its effects cannot be undone. I explain that any vocalizations, twitches, or loss of bladder/bowel control are due to reflexes and the pet is unaware of these occurrences.
Then we gather around the pet and comfort her while giving her a gracious end. I often tell clients that euthanasia may be the hardest thing they will ever do, but it may also be the most generous gift they will ever give their pet.
The End of My Week
My sad week involved two euthanasias performed exactly 7 days apart…both on Sundays. Death doesn’t refer to a calendar or watch a clock. It was time… time for Fraulein and Lacey to say good-bye to their families. They brought joy to the people that loved them. Their families loved them back by making their lives the very best they could be until the very end.
Are you struggling with a euthanasia decision for your senior or ailing pet? We’re happy to help.