Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Pet
Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the
knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand.
From All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot
Pets enter into our lives and hearts and become part of the family.
Over the next twelve years or so we probably experience many changes. These changes are as varied as life itself but may include
such things as children leaving home or the death of a loved one. But through it all, if we’re lucky, our pets are there
for us as a source of comfort. Then comes the dreadful news: our beloved companion has an incurable disease.
the decision to euthanize must be made quickly, as with traumatic injuries after an accident. When death comes without warning,
there is no time to absorb the shock. Most often, however, you have some time to discuss treatment options with your veterinarian.
It is always heartbreaking to get a bleak diagnosis, but with just a little bit of time on your side, you have a chance to say
goodbye to a great friend who has enriched your life.
It is common for grief to begin
with the fatal diagnosis. These sad feelings before your pet’s death are called anticipatory grief—the
grief before grief. Anticipatory grief helps you prepare for the end of life, but the extent to which you can prepare for
your beloved pet’s death is unknown. Because anticipatory grief becomes more intense as the loss approaches, it is important
to discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian and not delay the decision too long. You can also enlist the support of friends
and family to comfort you at this difficult time.
One of the hallmarks of grief is a feeling of helplessness.
It is human to want someone else to make the decision for you to euthanize your pet. Your veterinarian’s job is to provide
information and guidance about your pet’s changing condition and to offer you compassionate understanding of your agony.
The decision to end your pet’s life, however, is yours to make.
The choice to euthanize your pet may be
one of the hardest you will ever make, but a natural death, letting nature take its course, can be painful and prolonged.
Often people are able to accept the death of a beloved companion, but have great difficulty with being the one who must decide
when that death will occur.
Let the following questions guide you as you answer the painful question: Is euthanasia
the right choice for my pet?
Is there a reasonable chance for cure?
If there is no cure, can symptoms
be managed? In other words, is my pet's comfort a realistic goal?
How much additional time might treatment give?
What will be the quality of my pet’s time if I choose treatment?
Do I have the financial resources
to handle long-term veterinary care?
Do I have the emotional stamina necessary for my pet’s long illness
or permanent condition?
Is my relationship with my pet decreasing in quality as I anticipate this loss?
How many of my pet’s usual activities are still possible?
Make a list and review it on a regular basis.
Is my pet suffering?
Does my pet still enjoy anything about his life?
What do I believe my pet wants
me to do?
If I were in my pet’s place, what would I want?
What am I unwilling or unable to tolerate?
Write a contract with yourself knowing that you can always change your mind.
Think about the future. Ask yourself
how you will look back and remember this experience.
From the Pet Health Library at Veterinary Partner.com:
Includes a Quality of Life Scale that can help you
make the best decision for your pet.
responsible pet owners agonize over the decision to euthanize. If you didn't love your pet, you wouldn't care about his or
her life. Read Breaking the Power of Guilt by author Moira Anderson Allen. She offers a wise and compassionate perspective on companion animal death.
Before you choose euthanasia, please read Eddie's Story for cautionary words of hope.
Once you make the decision to euthanize, there are some steps you can take to ease the anguish for you and your beloved companion.
Take the time to say goodbye. Assure your pet through words and actions how much you love him or her. No one really
knows how much a dog or cat understands (my guess is more than we suspect) but by speaking to them gently and explaining very
simply what lies ahead—one shot, followed by drowsiness, then relief from pain and rest for a weary body—they
can certainly intuit the love and caring behind the words.
You can let your companion animal know that he (or
she) is going to a place with no struggle or suffering. You can tell him how much you love him, how much you will miss him
and that he will always be with you in your heart. As you hug and hold him, you can thank him for being such a wonderful and
loyal friend. And if it is comfortable for you, tell your beloved friend that you will meet again some day.
you say, and how you say it, expresses your love for your pet rather than your need for a pet. This gives
your companion permission to leave instead of trying to hang on for your sake. I believe that animals understand more of these
matters than most of us imagine. And even if they don’t, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Of this I am sure:
Our pets will know from our tone of voice that we love them, that we will be with them to the end, and that there is ultimately
nothing to fear.
If you can, be with your pet when he is euthanized. This is too painful for some and it is important
to accept what you can and cannot do. Before you make the decision about being present at the time of death, or not, please
ask yourself this: As hard as it will be to observe your pet’s death, will it be even more difficult to live with the
unanswered questions of not knowing what the end was like? Were the last moments peaceful? Did the end come quickly? I have
always taken comfort in knowing that the last voice my beloved friends heard was my own. There is no right and wrong here.
Only you can decide whether or not to witness your pet’s death.
The decision to euthanize provides a painless
release from agony and can ensure us that the last moments we share with our pets are tranquil, not tormented. The word euthanasia
comes from the Greek words eu thanatos meaning good death. Euthanasia is a compassionate response to prevent
or stop the suffering of one who filled our days with joy. It is, in the end, our final act of caring.
Visit the Blessing of the Animals page to read a prayer for your euthanized pet.
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