As our pets age and their lives come to a close, most of us will face a question that none of us looks forward to answering; is it time to end our pet’s life through euthanasia? There is no right or wrong answer when we consider what is best for a pet that has been a part of our life for many years. For some, the answer is to allow them to live out the rest of their life at home, surrounding them with comfort until their final day. For others, euthanasia is the most compassionate answer. Neither answer is easy.
Is euthanasia always required? The simple answer is no. There are some diseases that are extremely painful and cannot be cured. For these cases (e.g. severe trauma, painful spinal diseases, and some cancers) euthanasia is the most humane answer. However, there are many terminal diseases with which pets do not appear to physically suffer.
We should keep in mind that dying pets don’t seem to worry when they can’t do things that they used to do. They seem to accept things a lot better than we do; they live in the present as well as any Buddhist monk. If they’re too weak to get up, they don’t get up. If they’re not hungry, they don’t eat. If they’re not thirsty, they don’t drink. And they don’t have to listen to us telling them that they need to eat this or drink that so that they can stay well. Not eating and not drinking are ways the body prepares for death. Animals do a good job of listening to their bodies.
One of the more painful experiences that we go through as we face the death of a pet is projecting unto them our fears of death and dying. Pets don’t have to let go of all those things that we as humans hold on to. They don’t regret the past nor worry about the future. They aren’t burdened with the worries of what happens to them and others around them after they die. Hospice workers that help people in the last days of their lives tell us that there comes a great peace in those last days as the dying come to accept their pending death. The only things our pets have to lose are our company and affection. And we can easily give that until the end. They don’t have to find the peace we as humans must search for; they already own their peace.
What will be best for you and your pet as he or she nears the end of its life will be something that you, your family and your veterinary team should discuss. However, most of our clients find it easier to discuss some general concerns before that time when emotions are likely to be high. Knowing what happens during euthanasia and what options are available for the care of our pet’s remains eases some of the fears and worries that only make that difficult time more difficult.
Listed below are some of the common questions and concerns that you might have. Since details may vary among veterinary practices, please discuss these topics with your veterinary care givers.
How does euthanasia work? An over-dosage of an anesthetic is injected into a vein. Your pet falls into a deep sleep within seconds and, within a minute or so, the heart stops beating.
If I choose euthanasia, what are my options? Some people chose to say good-bye to their pet while they are alive and to leave them before the euthanasia injection is given. Others prefer to remain with them and say good-bye after they have died. The option is yours.
We have found that, for many smaller dogs and most cats, the restraint that is required for us to inject the euthanasia solution into the vein prevents the pet’s owners from being in close contact with them at this last moment of life. At out clinic, we often use a light anesthetic to allow the pet to calmly fall asleep. Once they’re anesthetized, we can easily give the IV injection. For those who wish to hold their pets for the last moment of life, this is an excellent option.
What options are available to me for the care of my pet’s remains? Some people choose to bury their pet at their home. Local ordinances should be consulted if this is your choice. Others choose to have their pet buried at a pet cemetery. Still others choose to have their pets cremated. Most crematory services offer you the option of having your pet cremated communally with others or alone if you wish to have his or her ashes returned to you. It is a good idea to discuss these options with the staff of your veterinary hospital as much ahead of time as possible to avoid having to make this important decision at the time of euthanasia.
I doubt one column can answer all the concerns that you might have about the end of your pet’s life. If there is something that we could do to help ease any concern that you have, please feel free to contact us.