When Considering Euthanasia
If you are considering euthanasia, discuss the pet’s condition with your veterinarian prior to making a decision or even coming in for an appointment. Every veterinarian has a story or two about the pet that was brought in for euthanasia but turned out to have a relatively simple problem and ultimately achieved a complete recovery.
The mental process of making the euthanasia decision is heart breaking and you do not want to have to undergo this process twice but, on the other hand, you do not want to euthanize a pet with a treatable disease. Many times people come in for their euthanasia appointment having already made their decision when, in fact, their pet has a reversible problem. Do not assume your pet’s condition is untreatable.
Call your veterinarian first and discuss the situation before you are too far into this emotional process to turn back. Use the medical resources available to you to get all the facts and options before making this decision.
Again, this is a very personal decision. On one hand, you probably do not want your pet to be alone with strangers in the final moments but on the other hand you may not be up to watching your pet’s death. Every owner wants to think of euthanasia as a gentle slipping into death, much like falling asleep.
In reality, the pet will probably not close his eyes, and there may be a final twitch, gasp, or even urination. Some animal hospitals do not allow pet owners to be present for euthanasia as it may be disturbing to an owner. To help ease this transition between and death, sometimes a tranquilizer is given first to alleviate some of the above, but you should keep in mind that this may not be how you want to remember your pet. The issue of children being present is a personal one and the above information should be considered.
Different clinics have different approaches. At my clinic, appropriate forms must be signed in order for the procedure to take place. If the owner is to be present, an intravenous catheter may be placed. This takes a few minutes and is usually done while the owner pays for the procedure and deals with paperwork. The payment transaction is done prior to the procedure so that the owner will not have to tearfully sign checks or credit card slips just following the emotional height of the procedure.
The intravenous catheter serves several purposes. First, the euthanasia solution is painful if administered outside the vein. The catheter ensures clean access to the vein, even if the owner is holding the pet. The catheter also allows for a sedative to be administered prior to the euthanasia solution. After the catheter is placed, the pet re-joins the owner in the exam room.
The owner may spend some last time alone with the pet if desired. The procedure itself is very fast. If a sedative is to be used, it is given first so that the pet is euthanized from a sleeping status. The euthanasia solution, generally dyed a bright color so that it cannot be mistaken for anything else, is delivered and death comes peacefully in a matter of seconds. The owner is allowed to remain with the pet for final private goodbyes. At the end of this time, after the last goodbyes and caresses are completed, the owner simply exits the room when ready and the hospital staff takes over.
Let the veterinarian know in advance if you would like a lock of hair or the collar as a keepsake.
Most clinics offer several disposal methods.
1. A rendering provider can be contracted to dispose of pet remains. This is via a chemical process called rendering, and is sometimes free of charge.
2. As another option, your pet’s remains can be part of a group cremation. There is usually an extra charge for this service.
3. If you wish, you may have a private cremation and the ashes will be returned to you either in an urn of your choosing or a cedar box (the basic option). There is an additional charge for the service and the urn.
4. Private services can sometimes be arranged through local providers. 5. Many city ordinances prohibit the burial of a pet’s body at home, so check what is legal in your area.
Autopsy (called necropsy for animals) is available and is compatible with any of the options listed above. There are different levels of detail for this procedure. If you have unanswered questions or a legal interest in these results, please discuss the details with your veterinarian.
Grief is a natural part of loss and has predicable stages. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed about grieving for the loss of an animal. Our pets are beloved family members and their loss is keenly felt. Still, it is important to realize that death is a natural end to life and that love will always continue. There are many resources available to assist you in your grieving process.
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has a Pet Loss Support Program that offers toll-free telephone support to callers. The hours are Monday through Friday, from 6:30 am to 9:30 pm Pacific Standard Time.
In addition, the following on-line areas may be helpful:
Helpful books are available as well:
Final Farewell: Preparing For and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet By Marty Tousley and Katherine Heuerman. 85 pages; illustrated. Our Pals Publishing Co, 3629 N 40th Ave. Phoenix AZ 85019. 1997
Healing the Pain of Pet Loss: Letters in Memorium edited by Kymberly Smith, The Charles Press.
Absent Friend: Coping with the Loss of a Treasured Friend by Laura and Martyn Lee, pub. by Henston Press, High Wycombe, Bucks, England, 1992.