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Euthanasia: "I choose to hurt now, so that you don't have to hurt anymore."
How do we say goodbye?
This is a question that all of us as pet owners must face. Our pets are selfless in their affection and live each day simply in the moment. But we as humans look down at the greying faces and clouding eyes of our companions and have to anticipate saying good bye. This is the burden we take on the day we bring a bouncing puppy or frolicking kitten into our life.
What is euthanasia?
“Euthanasia” comes from a Greek word that means, “good death.” In practical terms, we refer to an injection that rapidly and painlessly puts an animal into a deep sleep and then stops the heart. It is gentle and peaceful and allows our pet to slip quietly away. Our hope in providing euthanasia is to prevent unnecessary suffering to our pets through pain, chronic illness, or incurable injury. It is important to remember that by domesticating cats and dogs and taking them into our homes and lives, we have taken on the responsibility to help our pets pass on gently and humanely. It is a gift we can give them when their quality of life is suffering. One way to think of it is saying, “I choose to hurt now, so that you don’t have to hurt anymore.”
When do I need to consider euthanasia?
The simple answer is, “When the quality of life is no longer good.” But it is never a simple answer in reality. How do we define quality of life? How do we decide that now is the time? This is a heavy decision and it is never an easy one, even when it seems like it should be. One of the biggest things to consider is pain. But our pets don’t like to tell us when they are hurting, so pain can be very difficult to assess. Most pets that are having chronic pain are not whimpering or crying out. They are more likely to show changes in their behavior such as stiffness, decreased energy, hiding or avoiding attention, guarding painful areas, decreased appetite, or increased aggression.
Pain is not the only consideration. Many diseases including kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease, are not necessarily “painful,” but can certainly have huge impacts on quality of life. One thing to think about is to make a note on the calendar of good days vs. bad days. When the bad days start overwhelming the good days, then it may be time to consider euthanasia. Some people have found it helpful to make a short list of things or activities that make their pet’s days good; whether that is going for walks or eating breakfast or sitting with you on the couch. Fastidious cats and well house trained dogs who are unable to control their bowel movements or urination may become distressed if they are unable to follow their normal bathroom routines.
Many people hope for their aging pet to simply die peacefully in their sleep at home rather than pursue euthanasia. This is, fortunately or unfortunately, relatively uncommon. Many of the diseases we see in our aging pets lead to a slow, unpleasant decline and our pets may have to suffer dismal quality of life for weeks before the disease or diseases take them away. Euthanasia gives us the option to stop that decline before an animal’s quality of life has deteriorated to nothing. Our ultimate goal is to prevent suffering. For animals who become distressed by car rides or trips to the veterinary office, we are sometimes able to perform euthanasias at home, though this is not always possible. Other animals may be helped by having some sedatives prior to the car ride.
What happens during euthanasia?
You have some options when it comes time to say good bye to your beloved pet. Many people choose to stay with their pet during the procedure, often even holding them as they say good bye. Others do not wish to be present and will say good bye prior to the euthanasia. Either choice is very personal and entirely your decision. There is no one right way. If you choose to be present during the euthanasia, we will first bring your pet into our treatment area so that a technician can place an IV catheter- this is the same type of catheter that our pets get for receiving fluids when they are sick or undergoing surgery. If your pet still has an appetite, it is a fair bet that they will be receiving cookies from our assistants while the catheter is being placed. The actual injection of euthanasia solution takes place only in the room with you if you wish to be present. Typically the pet falls asleep and the process is done within 10 seconds, though pets with low blood pressure from being very ill may take somewhat longer. We would be glad to talk you through the process and answer any questions you may have before the procedure.
What do I do after I have said good bye?
You have several options to care for your pet following euthanasia. Many people choose to take their pet home for burial. We also have several cremation options available, depending on whether or not you would like ashes returned to you. We are also able to take care of your pet if you are unable to bury them at home or pursue cremation.
How do I handle the grief of myself and my family?
The feeling of loss when a beloved family pet dies is real and powerful. It is entirely normal to mourn. Our pets are a huge part of our life and losing them is a blow. Some people find themselves surprised by the depth of their feelings of grief following the loss of a pet. There are resources to help you through this painful period. One major resource is WSU’s Pet Loss Hotline, staffed by volunteers and students. This allows you to talk to someone (on the phone or via email) who understands what you are going through and how important our animal companions are. Everyone grieves a little bit differently so do whatever it is that helps you move through this difficult process.
If you wish, you can send us a brief paragraph and/or a picture of your pet to include on our Memorial Page.