For pet owners who do not want their terminally ill pet to suffer, euthanasia remains a viable option. Making that decision though is extremely difficult. It is often helpful to discuss the process of euthanasia with your veterinarian well in advance of its occurrence.
How will I know when it is time?
Knowing when euthanasia should be considered depends on your pet's health as well as your own. It is often helpful to look at your pet's quality of life. Does your pet still enjoy eating and other simple pleasures? Is your pet able to respond to you in a normal way? Is your pet experiencing more pain than pleasure?
You will be able to make a better decision and feel more comfortable about it if you receive as much information as possible regarding your pet's condition. If your pet is sick, ask about the treatment options, possible outcomes, and chances of recovery. In most instances, you will not need to make an immediate decision so take time to think about what you should do. Discuss the options with all other family members, including any children. Although it is a natural tendency to question our decisions afterward, if you know you made an informed choice, it will reduce the 'what ifs' you may tend to ask.
You need to consider what is best for your pet but also what is best for you and your family. Are you physically able to manage your pet's care? Do you feel ready to say good-bye or do you need more time? What will make it possible for you to feel comfortable regarding the decision?
What happens during euthanasia?
Euthanasia is a peaceful and virtually pain-free process but it is important to understand what will occur and how your pet's body may react. Knowing these things may make the process less traumatic for everyone involved.
To perform the euthanasia, the veterinarian will insert a catheter or needle into a vein of your pet's front or back leg. If your pet has been very sick or has had many intravenous injections, it may take a little time to find the best location.
Some veterinarians may then inject a drug into the vein to place your pet in a state of relaxation. The actual drug used to perform the euthanasia is a concentrated solution of pentobarbital which causes the pet's heart to stop beating. In most cases, it works very rapidly (5 seconds) but in some instances, the time between the injection and the death of the pet may be slightly longer. This is especially true if the pet has poor circulation.
In some instances, the pet's muscles may relax or contract after the pet has died. This can be very disconcerting if you are not aware of this possibility ahead of time. The muscles of the urinary bladder and the anus may relax and your pet may void urine and stool. Involuntary contractions of muscles may result in the pet appearing to gasp or move a leg. Again, remember your pet is not aware of these things happening since they happen after death. In almost all cases, the pet's eyes will not close upon death.
Knowing what happens during euthanasia may help you and other family members decide if they want to be present.
Who should be present during euthanasia?
Many people wish to be present during their pet's euthanasia to say good-bye, to prevent feeling guilty for 'abandoning' their pet and to know what the death was like so they will not wonder about it in the future. Each individual, however, will need to decide for him or herself whether they want to be there during the procedure. Sometimes family or friends may encourage you one way or another but ultimately it is your decision and you need to do what is best for you.
You are NOT abandoning your pet if you decide not to be present during the euthanasia. Your pet has experienced your love throughout their life and if they could talk, they would no doubt say that they understands. Your pet will not be alone; the veterinarian and staff will be there talking to and petting them during the procedure.
People say good-bye to their pets in many ways and at different times during euthanasia. You may:
- Say good-bye before your pet enters the exam room.
- Accompany your pet into the room, say good-bye prior to the euthanasia, and then leave before it is performed.
- Say good-bye in the exam room prior to the euthanasia, leave, and then return to the exam room afterward to say your final good-bye.
- Be present at the euthanasia and say good-bye during the procedure.
Again, in many cases, the individual family members may wish to have some time alone with the pet before and/or after the euthanasia to say their personal good-byes.