Pet euthanasia – a painful decision
The choice of euthanizing a pet is one of the most difficult things for pet owners...
5 November 2016
The choice of euthanizing a pet is one of the most difficult things for pet owners to do. But since euthanasia continues to be an option for all of us who do not want our terminally-ill pet to suffer, it is a decision some of us eventually have to face. Taking responsibility for a pain-free, peaceful death is the kindest act an owner can do for a much-loved pet. Be the best pet parent you can be and inform yourself about pet euthanasia.
How to tell if it’s time to euthanize your pet
Every pet, illness and situation is different. There is no single rule that can be followed when it is time to help your best friend “fall asleep”, and as a pet owner the decision can be difficult to make. Therefore, do not be afraid to contact your vet sooner rather than later. Getting input from your veterinarian on the specific medical conditions that your loved one may face is vital for doing what is best for your pet. Some of the signs of old age or sickness can be relieved and your pet’s problems may be treatable. Abnormal behaviour or signs of discomfort can actually also be caused by problems other than pain. However, loss of appetite, vomiting, signs of pain, or difficulty in breathing may be good indicators that euthanasia should be considered. You and your family know your pet better than anyone else, so try to make a reasoned judgement on his or her quality of life. Your vet will of course help you and will tell you whether or not euthanasia is necessary.
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Get prepared for pet euthanasia
Preparing yourself and your family for your pet’s euthanasia is a very important part of the process. Make a time for your entire family to say goodbye. If you have children, explain to them what’s happening in advance to help them prepare for the loss of their four-legged friend. Euthanasia can be done at home or at your vet’s office. Some vets, however, won’t perform euthanasia at home so it’s important to check with your vet first. If you choose to get it done at your vet’s office, bring your pet’s bed with you – or maybe a comfy blanket – where he or she can rest and calm down.
What happens during euthanasia?
The process euthanasia is quick, pain-free and peaceful. In most cases, it is a two-step procedure. First, a sedative is given to put the pet in a state of relaxation. A sedative is not always necessary – only if a pet is agitated or restless. Euthanasia itself is usually carried out by injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into the vein of the front leg, although the injection can be given to other areas of the body as well. The dog is held by a nurse, and a small patch of fur is shaved off. All your dog feels is a tiny prick of the needle – then the injection is painless. In most cases, the injection works very rapidly (a state of unconsciousness follows within seconds, often before the injection is finished). The injection causes the pet’s heart to stop beating. In some instances, the time between the injection and the death of the pet may be slightly longer. This is especially true if the animal is extremely ill or has poor circulation. In the few minutes after the procedure has been completed you may see reflex muscle movements, or involuntary gasps. This can be very hard to watch if you are not aware of this possibility ahead of time. But remember your pet is not aware of these things happening, and is definitely not in pain, since they happen after death.
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Caring for yourself afterward pet euthanasia
It is completely normal to feel sad and upset when your pet dies. Do not be embarrassed about showing your emotions. It takes time to get over the loss of a loved one and, although reactions differ, very often a mixture of feelings – sadness, loneliness and anger – can follow. In the time immediately after the euthanasia you will need to take special care of yourself. If you are alone, it will be best if you can have someone else drive you home and share the rest of the day with you. It is helpful to have plans for the rest of the day: a hike with your friend or dinner with someone who understands your grief. And most importantly, try not to feel guilty or blame yourself! The decision for euthanasia is taken with your pet’s interests at heart to avoid suffering. Some people are not sure whether they did the right thing. But don’t worry, it is normal to feel some doubt, but it will ease with time.
If you are considering euthanasia for a healthy pet, do not forget that rehoming may be a better option. Ask your vet for advice – many can help with solving behavioural problems, and they have information on rehoming.
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