This difficult decision I am discussing is euthanasia. Also referred to as: putting the pet down or putting them to sleep. Deciding when is the right time to do this is not always easy, so I will go through my criteria for making this decision.
First of all, the decision is ultimately up to the veterinarian to euthanize. We have the right to refuse performing this procedure. This is not because we feel like being mean, but we are advocates for the pets and if we don’t feel that it’s time, then we won’t do it. You will find some vets that will and in most places there are plenty to choose from, but many vets will refuse euthanasia in certain situations. You would be surprised at the euthanasia requests we get! Some people just don’t want the pet anymore and don’t want to adopt them out, so they request we “put them down.” Those people are given a resounding NO! This is a decision that the owner and veterinarian need to come to together for the best interest of the pet.
Second, quality of life is more important in pets than quantity. If an animal is suffering and we don’t believe we can fix the issue, then the topic of euthanasia is discussed. Some vets may differ on this but I don’t believe in keeping an animal alive just because we can. Some vets wait too long to euthanize and some do it way too soon, you as an owner have to feel comfortable and agree with the vet about when it’s time.
Some people will ask about letting them die at home. For me, this depends on the illness. If they have heart failure then absolutely not! Drowning in your own fluids is not a peaceful way to die. Healthy hearts of dogs and cats will keep beating until they are skin and bone and you will look at them and wonder why you let it go on for so long. If they have a little bit of arthritis then no rush. There are signs to watch for at home to know when it’s getting closer to time.
The signs I look for at home are very basic: Is the pet eating? Is the pet making it to the bathroom/litter box ok? Is the pet able to get up and move around? If your pet is still eating well, moving around and going to the bathroom ok, chances are it is not time to euthanize. There are a lot of other things to consider but these are the basic questions to ask yourself.
If the decision has been made together with the vet to euthanize, what are the next steps? The euthanasia procedure is a very quick procedure. Most of the time you will have the option to be with your pet during the procedure or not. If you will be present with your pet, your vet may choose to place an IV catheter and may or may not give a mild sedative. The euthanasia injection is a single injection. It is an overdose of an anesthetic that puts the pet to sleep and then stops the heart. The pet’s heart stops very quickly and usually by the time the vet is done with the injection the pet has laid down and you might have felt the last breath. Sometimes, depending on the illness, it could take a couple minutes for the heart to stop. The vet may have to give a little more of the injection. Some things that may or may not happen during the injection: When the vet starts the injection the pet might move a little when feeling themselves fall to sleep and/or they might vocalize for a short time. The next few things that might occur are reflexes that the pet is not aware of: some muscles might twitch, they could gasp(reflex in diaphragm) and they could lose bodily fluids. The last thing is their eyes remain OPEN. They do not close them like they do in the movies.
Please do not try to be tough for us. We know how difficult this decision is. We have so many people that say they are trying to hold it together. Trust me, we have just about seen it all. We have people that just about collapse in the room, run out of the clinic and have so many tears that they can’t see. We do NOT judge. If anything we think it’s a little weird when you show no emotions.
The last thing to decide is what to do with the body. There are three options. You can take the body home to bury(as long as your county doesn’t have any ordinances against it), do a mass cremation(where you do NOT get ashes returned), or do an individual cremation(where you get the ashes back). These all depend on personal preference. Your veterinarian’s staff can discuss the costs with all these. There are so many options now for pets. Some places even have little statues that you can put your pets ashes in!
I know this is a depressing blog to read but this is the sad reality of veterinary medicine. This is a discussion we have more than we would care to have. But, we have the option to end a pet’s suffering and allow as many people to be with the pet as you want during their transition. Please, have a discussion with your vet if you feel it is time for your pet to leave this world. And know that we have your pet’s best interest in mind.
Every veterinarian has had to make this decision for their own pet, so believe me when I say we know how you feel.
Midnight’s last Christmas: