– from the Greek: ‘a gentle death’
With the improved nutrition and veterinary care now available, many pets live a long and happy life. Unfortunately, death must come to us all in the end.
Most owners wish that their pet will die quietly in his/her sleep when the time comes but unfortunately, this rarely happens: about three quarters of pets are euthanased (put down). This means that we will have to take responsibility for making the decision to have our pets put down.
Reasons for euthanasia
These are various and include advanced old age and senility, incurable disease, incontinence, serious injury, or inability to afford treatment. Younger dogs are sometimes euthanased because of severe behavioural problems. Sometimes personal reasons may play a part.
Many owners feel guilty about requesting euthanasia, as they don’t like to think that they are the ones to make the decision to decide when their pet’s life must end. This is a natural feeling to have but we should be aware that a gentle death is the kindest gift that we can give to an animal at the appropriate moment.
Euthanasia is usually performed by injection of an overdose of strong barbiturate into one of the veins in the animal’s foreleg, which causes it to lose consciousness immediately. A nurse will often assist the vet by gently holding the pet, in order to prepare the vein for injection. A few seconds later, breathing stops, the heart stops beating and death occurs. After death, some reflexes may occasionally occur, such as trembling legs, sudden gasps and loss of bladder and bowel control. It is important to be aware that this may happen, as although the pet has passed away at this stage, these reflexes can be distressing to see.
It is entirely up to you and the family whether you wish to remain with your pet as euthanasia is carried out. You may wish to spend some time to ‘say goodbye’ afterwards instead. Pets have no knowledge about what is about to happen, so will have no fear of death at this time. However, if you are very upset, your emotions can be communicated to the animal and he may become distressed as a result. In some cases, sedation of the pet may help.
At home or at the practice?
Most pets are euthanased at the veterinary practice. Here, the procedure can be carried out easily, with less chance of complications, as nurses are available to assist. In some cases, your vet may ask to carry out euthanasia under an anaesthetic, for example if a tumour is found to be inoperable. This saves the pet from the trauma of recovering from an anaesthetic, only to face a short and perhaps painful few weeks ahead.
Our vets and nurses at the emergency clinics are very experienced and will be available to help you at this emotional time. There is no right or wrong thing to do in the circumstances, so don’t be embarrassed to show your feelings (as our staff sometimes do).
The final resting place
It is up to you whether you would like to have your pet buried or cremated after passing away. According to the law, a pet that has died at the surgery can only be taken off the premises by a licensed carrier but special dispensation is generally granted for owners taking their own pets home for burial.
Most pets that are euthanased at the surgery are cremated at a specialised Veterinary Crematorium. A brochure is available from the practice. Our Crematorium has a ‘garden of remembrance’ open to visitors. You can also request individual cremation of your pet and to have the ashes returned to you. This is more expensive than communal cremation but you may prefer to scatter or bury the ashes at a place or your own personal choosing.
Coping with the loss of your pet
Death of a family pet is a very traumatic experience and you must expect to be upset afterwards. Pets are very much a part of the family and it may take some time to adjust to their loss. Feelings of guilt and anger about the death and the illness leading up to it are natural and will pass in time. There are books available that deal with this subject and we may even be able to refer you to a special veterinary bereavement councillor.
A new pet may help to fill the gap left behind but remember that they will be a good replacement but not a substitute for the much-loved individual. Allow enough time before replacing them.
Don’t forget that the death of our pet is something that all of us as pet owners must come to terms with, sooner or later. It is important that you talk about the possibility with your vet before it is imminent. You will then be able to face up to the decision of euthanasia at the right time and do your pet the final act of kindness.