A goodbye letter “written” by a dog to his man went viral recently. The bulldog mix had cancer and kidney and heart failure, and the owner made the tough decision to euthanize. The dog “spoke” of the love and concern everyone showed to him. It was guaranteed to bring out the tissues, because most pet owners can relate to how tragic this experience can be.
A common refrain among veterinarians when asked about making the euthanasia decision is “better a week too early than an hour too late.” You don’t want to wait until your pet suffers terribly before putting it to sleep, but letting go is never an easy decision. Every animal and person is different, but there are certain aspects to consider when making your decision.
Quality of life
Animals live in the now. They don’t have any concept of next week or next month. The time comes when you must focus on your companion’s quality of life rather than quantity of life. Consider your pet’s situation and ask yourself these questions when evaluating if it’s time to say goodbye:
- Pain management: If your pet is in pain, is it manageable with medication or is the pain level high?
- Mobility: Does your pet move relatively comfortably, or do they require assistance for all but the simplest movements?
- Eating and drinking: Is your pet eating and drinking a sufficient amount? Does your pet require hand-feeding, a feeding tube, or intravenous fluids on a daily basis?
- Attitude: Does your pet appear content, or is their overall demeanor fearful, grumpy, unaware or anxious?
- Medical management: Some pets are just fine with the various medications, injections and veterinary visits vital to managing and stabilizing their conditions. Other pets become extremely distressed and treatments become a battle.
An elderly and/or dying animal will have good days and bad days. When bad days considerably outweigh the good, it’s time to make the decision.
If there’s a circumstance more difficult than euthanizing a sick or injured pet, it’s putting a pet down due to aggression. In these cases, an animal is often young and physically healthy, but proven dangerous to people or other animals. If you’ve worked with an animal behaviorist and veterinarian and the situation isn’t improving, you’ll have to make that tough call before a person or another pet is seriously hurt or killed.
While we will do anything for our pets, everyone has their limitations. It’s one thing when a small dog needs help going up the stairs or going outside to eliminate. When this stage occurs in a large dog, it may prove physically impossible for the owner to constantly lift the animal. Veterinary expenses for a very sick animal can quickly become a financial burden. Often, euthanasia becomes the only viable option when circumstances become too much to handle.
The vet will likely sedate your pet prior to euthanasia to ensure the animal is calm and peaceful. Most pets fall into a deep sleep. The euthanasia process consists of the vet slowly injecting the euthanasia solution into a vein, generally in a front leg. Within just a few seconds the animal’s heart and breathing slow, and then cease. Whether or not you want to stay with your pet in these last moments is your decision and only you can choose what you’re comfortable with.
The two basic options for euthanasia are having the procedure at the veterinary clinic or at home. For many pets, going to the vet is a stressful experience. However, not all veterinarians offer in-home services. If you prefer to have your pet pass in the comfort of your home, ask your vet to recommend a mobile veterinary practitioner. In either case, the veterinarian can make arrangements for your pet’s cremation or cemetery burial. If you want to bury your pet on your own property and it’s a permitted use, you must make those arrangements yourself.
Pet bereavement therapy
Losing a pet may bring about profound grief, and these feelings are perfectly natural and normal. Not everyone will understand just how devastating it can be to lose a pet that has become a part of your family. If you need counseling to help deal with the loss of your pet, your veterinarian can recommend a pet bereavement therapist.
Jane Meggitt graduated from New York University and worked as a staff writer for a major New Jersey newspaper chain. Her work on pets, equines and health have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Daily Puppy, The Nest Pets, Horse News, Hoof Beats and Horseback magazines.