Making the decision when to euthanase a much-loved pet can seem like a straight forward or incredibly difficult choice, but is always traumatic. If they are elderly and have suddenly deteriorated, for example they are not longer able to get up, they are in significant pain, they are struggling to breath or they have a condition which requires surgery to maintain quality of life, then many people feel there is little decision to make.
Never feel that your vet is trying to lead you down one path or another; it is our duty to provide you with all the options, the details of what is involved and potential outcomes. No-one knows your pet as well as you do and so you are best placed to decide what is right for you and your pet. Some people ask us "what would you do if he/she were yours?", which we are happy to answer. However, please remember that we are in the fortunate position of being present throughout any procedure being performed and often our pets are very comfortable in the practice environment.
Your decision becomes even harder when your pet is gradually deteriorating and palliative care is the only option. This can occur with advanced osteoarthritis, kidney, liver or heart disease or with cancer where surgery or chemotherapy is not appropriate.
Questions worth asking yourself are:
- Is he/she still capable of and enjoying going for a walk?
- Are they still eating well and getting excited when food is presented?
- Are they still pleased to see you if you have been out of the house for a period?
- Are they interacting with you and/or other pets?
- Are they showing obvious signs of pain and if so can this be controlled with painkillers?
Ultimately, are they taking enjoyment from life or simply 'going through the motions', i.e. do they have a quality of life?
Be aware that a vet is available at the end of the phone throughout the night. We are very happy to give advice if your pet has suddenly deteriorated, and if the time has come then we can either come to your house or arrange to meet you at Oakham Veterinary Hospital.
Some people would rather have their pet put to sleep in their own environment at home, whereas others choose to bring their pet to the practice. If you would rather not remember your pet being put to sleep at home, but find the practice building too clinical then we can come out to you in the car park. Some pets are more relaxed if they stay on their bed in the car, and if the weather is nice then finding a quiet spot on the grass in front of or behind the practice building can be very peaceful.
Once you have decided that euthanasia is the best option for your pet, it can feel like a relief. However, no matter how prepared you feel, when the time comes it will be an emotional and upsetting experience. The injection used is an overdose of an anaesthetic so your pet will feel like they are going to sleep. If this is given intravenously then it acts within seconds, giving your pet a peaceful and dignified end. Once your pet has lost consciousness it is not uncommon for them to 'gasp' or 'twitch'. This is a normal involuntary reflex which can continue for a minute or two; your pet will not be aware that it is happening but it can be upsetting for you if you are unaware that it can occur.
After your vet has listened for a heart beat and confirmed that your pet has passed away, we will then leave the room to give you a chance to say a final goodbye. Take as long as you need at this point, you should never be rushed. Once you are ready, we will let you out of the side door so you do not have to pass by other people in the waiting room. Do not be embarassed at showing your emotions; we expect you to feel upset.
Some people like to bury their pet at home and others would like an individual cremation. If you wish for an individual cremation then your pet's ashes will either be returned in a pot for scattering or in a sealed wooden casket with an engraving of your pet's name. We have used Lawnhill Pet Crematorium for some years and have built up a good relationship with this family-run business. One of our vets has visited their premises personally and been impressed with their facilities and more importantly, their attitude and compassion. More details and photos can be found at www.lawnhillpetcrematorium.co.uk.
People cope with losing a pet in different ways; it can help to talk to family and friends about it. If you find you are struggling to come to terms with your loss then the Blue Cross provide a telephone helpline and email service manned by trained volunteers who have personally experienced pet bereavement (the Pet Bereavement Support Service, PBSS). More details can be found at www.bluecross.org.uk.