Euthanasia is never an easy decision but it isn’t one you have to make alone.
A few weeks ago we had to put our 15-year-old cat ‘Tugger’ to sleep. He had become seriously ill and was deteriorating fast. We couldn’t do any more to help him and although it was a traumatic decision to make, we knew euthanasia was the right one.
Euthanasia is a difficult subject particularly as it usually crops up when we are in a fragile emotional state. In this article I hope to show you that although it is possibly one of the toughest decisions you will ever make, it can also be the ultimate gift of friendship and compassion that you can bestow upon your pet.
There are many reasons why an owner may consider euthanasia. The most common one being that your pet is no longer able to live a happy, healthy, pain free life. This may be because of:
Serious injury or illness
• Your pet may be suffering from an injury or illness that cannot be treated or that it will not recover from adequately in order to live a normal life.
• The treatment of your pet’s condition may be beyond your reach financially.
• Your pet may no longer be responding to medication your Veterinarian has prescribed and is in pain or has lost mobility.
Old age is not a reason to put your pet to sleep. However, certain conditions that accompany ageing may be.
• When your pet can no longer enjoy the things it used to and appears to be experiencing more pain than pleasure i.e.: on walks, playing etc,
• When your pet is no longer responsive to you and/or is unable to maintain itself hygienically
• When your pet no longer has a decent quality of life.
Inappropriate behavior can most often than not be sorted out either with the help of medication from your Vet or the assistance of a reputable animal behaviorist. However, there are some issues that can’t be solved such as severe aggression where an animal puts people or other animals at risk.
When do I know the time is right?
This is the most common question we are asked, particularly by owners who have pets with deteriorating conditions. If you have started to think about euthanasia then your instincts are telling you things are not going to get better for your pet. Try asking yourself the following:
• how keen is your pet to eat?
• how responsive is your pet to you when you call or stroke it?
• how mobile is your pet? Is movement a source of pain and discomfort?
• does your pet experience pain when being handled
• does you pet pant constantly or drink large quantities of water?
• is your pet losing body weight and condition?
• is your pet happy, does it have a good quality of life?
Remember this isn’t a decision you need to make alone; speak to your family members and don’t forget your Vet. Your Vet, apart from having experience, will probably have known your pet for some time and will be able to help and advise you. Try not to be selfish! Don’t let your pet suffer unnecessarily. They deserve more from you.
What Happens Next?
When you have come to your decision the next step is to organize things. Some Veterinarian’s will do a house visit to euthanase a pet but this can sometimes be more traumatic for everyone including your pet. So think carefully before choosing this option. Here is a list of things to consider:
• Find out when your Vet practice is quiet. Choose either the first or last appointment of a consulting session. You won’t have to wait and you won’t have to face crowds of people in the waiting room.
• Book a double appointment so you have time to spend with your pet.
• Don’t go alone. Try to take someone with you who can be supportive and drive you home if necessary.
• Decide if you want your pet to be buried or cremated, whether you want ashes returned or not and how much each option costs. Do this beforehand so that you can tell the receptionist when you book your appointment.
• Most decent practises will not ask you to pay at the time of the appointment but you will have to settle your account at some point and returning to the practice can be upsetting. Organise an EFT or pay in advance to avoid the any further stress.
How is it done?
Euthanasia is carried out when an animal is given an intravenous injection containing an overdose of a drug that is similar to those used to induce general anaesthesia. The chemical stops heart and brain activity causing instant loss of consciousness the animal passes from this deep sleep into death without any experience of pain. This happens in seconds.
Death is something that is hard to come to terms with but sometimes we are forced to consider not only our own mortality but that of our pets. Certain things may happen after your pet is put to sleep that can be distressing. It is important to remember your pet is no longer able to experience pain; these are normal processes that the body undergoes after death.
• agonal gasps - your pet may appear to ‘carry on breathing’ . This is caused by a reflex of the diaphragm and is not a conscious act.
• shakes and shivers are common and are also reflexes as the muscles are deprived of oxygen
• your pet may whimper or cry as the injection is administered.
This is a rare side effect of the drug and is not a conscious act, your pet is not in pain.
After they have gone
Give yourself time to grieve. I am sure you felt it was a privilege to have your pet in your life. Whether your pet was with you through thick and thin or was just a brief but important feature in your life. They were always there for you; they never answered back, gave so much and asked for so little. Our pets are a huge comfort to us and losing them can be devastating. Those around you may not understand how you feel, it is important to find a family member or friend who is supportive. Remember that staff members at your Veterinary practice are always there to listen with a compassionate ear.
Should I Get Another Pet?
There are so many reasons why each of us are pet owners. The decision to get another pet after the loss of a loved one can be difficult. You will never replace the pet you have lost. No two animals are ever the same, they each have their own funny behaviours and traits. Getting another companion animal is not a betrayal of the pet you have lost. It merely shows that you have enough compassion and love to climb on the roller coaster and ride it again!