If you are reading this article right now, our hearts go out to you and your family. Losing a treasured family pet is one of the great sadnesses of life. Harder still, sometimes, you have to make the incredibly difficult decision to euthanize. Whatever your personal situation, whatever led you to this article, you have likely found yourself in your veterinarian’s office asking the telltale question “are they suffering?” If your vet answers “yes”, rest assured you are doing the right thing by seeking out advice on this somber subject. In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about pet euthanasia.
What is Pet Euthanasia?
More lovingly referred to as being “put to sleep”, pet euthanasia is when a trained veterinarian intravenously administers a solution that painlessly ends a pets life. The act of euthanasia is a controversial topic but is widely revered as being a humane way to put ailing pets out of their misery. Euthanasia is typically recommended by a veterinarian when and if a pet is losing a battle with a terminal illness, or if the pet in question was in a debilitating accident.
When is it Time?
The important thing to note about pet euthanasia is that no matter what, it is your choice as their owner to make the call. Do not let anyone rush or bully you into making a decision. At the end of the day, you have to think about you and your pets unique journey and situation. What is the quality of life your pet will be living? Of course, there are a million different examples of people whose dogs or cats were given two weeks to live that went on to live for two more years. However, there is a difference between living with the natural aches and pains of aging and not being able to physically do normal things.
The decision to put down a pet is a torturous one. If you are on this painful journey and need some guidance, there are a few things you look out for to help you make your decision.
Get a Second Opinion
No matter how much you love your regular vet, it never hurts to get a second opinion when it comes to such an irreversible choice. Medicine of any kind is, after all, considered a “practice” for a reason. If you choose to get a second opinion, be sure you attend your appointment with your pets full medical history. That way, the new doctor will have all of the tools to make an informed diagnosis. Sometimes, it is simply helpful to have a fresh set of eyes on the situation. Maybe the new doctor will see something your regular doctor missed.
If you choose to get a second opinion, it is important for your own mental health to go in with an open mind. Hope is an invaluable asset during this tricky time in your pets life. You can, and by all means should, hope for a better alternative. However, you have to be prepared to hear the same prognosis.
Changes in Behavior
As a devoted pet parent, you should always be aware of your pets general well being a temperament. How much do they typically eat? How often do they go to the bathroom? Often times, towards the ends of their lives, pets tend to change their regular habits. More often than not, they simply cannot perform them easily as they once could.
Many pet owners search for “signs” that their beloved pet is “ready” to let go. It is entirely common for hurting pets to give these signs to their owners. Refusal of food and water is a common occurrence. Trouble standing or walking is a clear and visible sign of discomfort. Active pets will suddenly show little or no interest in their favorite activities. It is incredibly tough to see your beloved pet in pain, but you have to be strong for them and listen to what they are trying to tell you.
When You Know, You Know
One of the most common reasons people choose not to euthanize their pets it because they, the owner, is not ready to let go. This reaction is both good, and bad. On the good side, this gives the owner time to personally process what is happening. At the end of the day, the decision is final, and you want to feel relieved that you have made your beloved pet more comfortable. Pet owners that do not give themselves time to process their decision often times come out on the other end shrouded in guilt. On the other hand, is your pet truly is suffering, drawing out the process can be cruel and painful for your pet.
Many veterinarians have reported that their clients simply wake up one day and claim “it’s time”. This approach tends to leave pet owners with the sense of peace and closure that they need in this sad time.
Suffering is Hard to Watch
If your dear pet has been trudging the uphill battle that is cancer and disease, the journey has been no doubt upsetting to witness. You have tried endless treatments, fancy organic diets, “miracle” cures, and yet your pet still suffers. This is another moment to take a pause and really think about your pet’s quality of life. Does your pet really enjoy the cocktail of medications they are on? Are these chemicals really improving their life, or making it worse? Rest assured your sweet pet will be happier when they are not suffering anymore.
At What Cost?
In an article full of sensitive topics, cost is trigger word of sorts. On the more important hand, “cost” refers to the pain of suffering. For example, your pet may seem moderately okay. They seem to manage to get around okay, but they are limping all the while. Your vet has confirmed that their joints are deteriorating and they are in pain. You tell yourself they will manage, you are not ready to let go. Sure, they can “manage”, but at what cost?
On the other hand, cost refers to actually fiscal responsibility. Certain diseases and ailments can rack up insane vet bills from surgeries and costly treatment plans. Every beloved pet life is worth fighting for, but sometimes to money well runs dry. You should never be asked to put a price on your pets life. However, you have to be honest with yourself again about the quality of life you are hemorrhaging money to provide.
Trust Your Vet
Hopefully, if you are at this point in your pets life, they are on the older side. Therefore, you have not only had more time with them, but you have likely had years with a trusted veterinarian. Your vet knows how much your beloved pet means to you, and they wouldn’t suggest euthanasia unless they truly felt your pet was in pain.
Living in the Moment
Finally, consider your pets mentality. Cats and dogs are incredibly astute animals. Dogs especially have a keen ability to sense emotion and tone. However, unlike people, animals truly and 100% live in the present. Animals do not toil over what the future may hold, or fret about the past as humans do. Instead, they ferociously live in the now. Why do you think they never, ever fail to greet you at the door with a boundless level of excitement?
In that same token, if your pet is suffering, all they know is how they feel right now. Their once bright and carefree world is now completely wrapped in pain. It is essential that you consider their perspective when you are making your decision.
“How Do You Measure a Life?”
If you are into musical theatre at all, you know “how do you measure a life” is a profound lyric from the Broadway musical “Rent”. While that musical tackles the tough trials and tribulations of human battles with disease, the lyric holds weight when it comes to animal life as well. While there is no hard and fast “test” to determine if and when euthanasia is the right call for your pet, there are some measurable experiments you can run.
The Rule of Five
Brainstorm your pets top five favorite things to do. For example, playing fetch, climbing to the back of the couch for a nap, or simply eating their breakfast. Take the time to write down your five choices. If and when your dear pet can no longer do three or more of these activities, most vets would asses that their quality of life has significantly waivered.
Keeping a Journal
Journals are not just for teenage girls to detail the events of their first kiss anymore. In fact, if your pet is ill, it may be a good idea to keep a diary of their daily temperament. In it’s most basic form, you can keep a tally of good days vs. bad days. This is helpful in keeping track of whether or not your pet is having more bad days than good.
Furthermore, you can be even more detailed in your journal by detailing your pets daily behavior, appetite, and general condition. Sometimes seeing their progression on paper in black in white makes it easier to understand if and when they are getting worse before they are getting better.
Quality of Life
By the same token, veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos has curated a quality of life scale. Simply put, the scale measures Hydration, Hurt, Hunger, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More. The scale is sometimes referred to as “HHHHHMM”, or the five “H’s” and two “M’s”. Create a chart for each letter and rank each item on a scale of 1-10. One, naturally, refers to a low quality of life, and ten represents the best of the best. While most of the letters are self-explanatory, “hygiene” refers to the pets ability to control bodily functions while staying clean. Furthermore, “more” is defined in this case as “more good days than bad”.
If the majority of the measured elements clock in at a level five or higher, the doctor deems quality of life to be acceptable and worthy of continued treatment. However, if most of the categories are measured at 5 or below, the evidence is fairly damning that your pet is suffering poor quality of life.
Once you have weighed and measured your options carefully if you decide to pursue euthanasia you are likely wondering what happens now. While every pet parent is different, more often than not, veterinarians are asked what the owners should expect.
A boundless number of trained veterinary scientists have confirmed that intravenous euthanasia is a completely painless process for your pet. In less than one minute from the administration of the barbiturate drug, your pet will calmly take their final few breathes, and fall into a peaceful passing. That is why this process is also called “putting them to sleep”.
Pet Euthanasia Options
There are two main options you have regarding the physical euthanasia of your beloved family pet. You can have the procedure done in your vet’s office, or in the comfort of your own home.
Euthanasia at The Vet
While no animal loves a trip to the v-e-t, this final pilgrimage will undoubtedly prove difficult for you as well. If you choose to go to the vet, you will be given the option to be present during the procedure, or not. While every owner is different, most vets claim that the owners that opt out of being present regret it later on down the road. Whatever path you choose, understand that emotion is completely normal and understandable. Rest assured that your vet understands how hard this is and that everyone involved understands and respects the delicacy of the situation.
Veterinarian Dr. Andy Roark is no stranger to the upsetting experience of euthanasia. He reports that he is often met with pet owners exclaiming “this must be the hardest part of your job”. However, Dr. Roark explains “for me, putting animals to sleep is not one of the hardest parts of being a veterinarian. That’s because euthanasia is often a blessing and gift to a suffering animal.”
Pet Euthanasia at Home
Furthermore, you now have the option to have a trained veterinarian professional perform euthanasia in your own home. Some owners feel this will make their pets more comfortable during the process. If you choose this option, be sure to ask your vet to refer you to a known professional.
It is important to note that in order to be done humanely and properly, euthanasia should only ever be performed by a trained veterinary professional. Sadly, there is an alarming number of accounts where people try a DIY approach to euthanasia. Do you and your pet a favor and hire a professional.
Lap of Love
Clearly, the path to pet euthanasia is a sad one. Fortunately, there are a number of support groups and services designed to help you and your pet make this transition. Chief amongst them is the pet hospice service Lap of Love. With locations all over the country, Lap of Love helps owners and pets alike emotionally and physically handle the passage as painlessly as possible.
Whichever path you choose at the end, you have a few options regarding the “after” part. Namely, you have two options: burial and cremation. While pet cremation can be an expensive option, many pet owners find solace in keeping the ashes as a token of their pet’s life. Furthermore, many pet owners find comfort in the act of ceremoniously spreading the ashes of their fallen pet pal. On the other hand, many pet owners choose to memorialize their pet with either a plot in a pet cemetery or with an at-home burial.
Tips for Coping with The Loss of Your Pet
Losing a beloved furry member of your family is never easy. Harder still, some people in your regular circle may not fully understand what you are going through. Many people try and minimize the trauma of losing a pet, exclaiming “it was just a dog”. First and foremost, you need to understand that you have to right to grieve. All death is traumatic, and people deal with the residual grief in different ways. On the bright side, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain and deal with grief.
Doing What is Right
When it comes to euthanasia, many pet owners struggle with feelings of guilt after the procedure. However, you must rest assured that you are/were acting in your pets best interest. In fact, many veterinarian experts believe that you should look at it like the final gift you are giving your dear pet.
Talk it Out
At a basic human level, people crave the advice and aid of other people in times of need. Whether you confide in your best friend, spouse, or a pet grief support group, do not skip this important step in the grieving process. Be sure not only to talk about how hard it was towards the end, instead, focus on the good times and memories you had together.
Remember, Grief is A Process
We are all unique in a myriad of ways, and how we individually deal with grief is no different. It is vital to go at your own pace when coping with the loss of your pet. If leaving your dog’s old bed out for a little while brings you comfort, do it!
Many pet owners find comfort in donating their fallen pets old toys, food, leashes, or crates to the Humane Society or local animal shelter after a suitable period of time. This is good for two reasons. One, your donation can help dozens of animals in need. Second, this helps you start fresh with a clean slate. If and when you decide to get a new pet, experts recommend getting new gear specific to your new pet. That way, you feel less like you are trying to replace something you have lost.
Better yet, try volunteering at your local animal shelter. Helping nourish and care for animals and need can work wonders on a wounded soul.
Memorializing your Fallen Furry Friend
From shadowboxes housing cherished photos to jewelry and ornaments, there is no end to the ways your cherished pet can live on in your home and your heart. While no physical token can fully fill the furry void in your home, many pet owners find comfort in memorializing and honoring their beloved pet.
Furthermore, memorials can go beyond the in-hand memento variety. In fact, many pet owners get creative and plant a memorial tree or garden. This is an especially delightful way to honor your pet because you get to see life flourish and grow in their memory.
Pet Euthanasia: In Summary
Bless you and your adored pets heart. The topic of euthanasia and the end of the road is not an easy one, but it is essential to know how to deal with the inevitable. It is important to remember that every pet is unique, and it is up to you when and if euthanasia is the right option for your family. Rest assured that you are not alone in this journey and at the end of the day you are doing what is best for your pet.