Pet Euthanasia: Is There Ever a Good Time?
When we bring home a furry friend for the first time, we are entranced by the new little life in our home. The comical antics and pitiful cries are met with our “coos” and smiles as we happily scoop them up. As our pets grow, we cherish the experiences we have together—first walks on leash, going to the dog park, chasing toys or the laser pointer, cuddling.
When we bring home a furry friend for the first time, we are entranced by the new little life in our home. The comical antics and pitiful cries are met with our “coos” and smiles as we happily scoop them up. As our pets grow, we cherish the experiences we have together—first walks on leash, going to the dog park, chasing toys or the laser pointer, cuddling. As our pets age, it’s important to have annual check-ups, just like humans, to make sure there aren’t any preventable health issues and to discuss quality of life. Should our pets become ill or are nearing the end stages of life, a question that often comes up is, “when is it appropriate to consider euthanasia”?
The definition for euthanasia refers to the “relief of pain and suffering” and it should always be considered in this context. The proper time to put a pet to sleep is always when their pain and suffering are greater than their quality of life; not the quality of life of the owner.
The decision to euthanize a pet and when, should be made in consultation with your family and vet. For many pet owners, the decision to euthanize is, sadly, monetary. The cost for a consultation to a pet oncologist can cost $300 before any tests or treatments. Ideally cost would not be as much a factor in the decision-making process, as your pet’s quality of life, ability to tolerate any potential treatment, and benefits of said treatment. Another frequent consideration is the amount of additional care and attention the pet will need as a terminal disease progresses. Some pet owners have reported seeing something leave their pet’s eyes and “knowing” it was time.
After weighing the options, which differs for every pet, every vet and every situation and determining that euthanasia is the best final course, speak with your vet. They will discuss the protocol and answer any questions you may have. In the US, for dogs and cats, euthanasia is nearly always through administering pentobarbital or other barbiturate alone or with other drugs intravenously. Some vets will administer two drugs, one to render the pet unconscious and another to stop the heart. Most vets will allow the pet owner to be present during the procedure; extra steps are required for the owner to be present and may mean additional costs. The procedure differs for other types of animals.
When determining what time is best to bring your pet in, schedule an appointment time at the end of the day. Most vets will accept small pets at any time during the day, but for those procedures where the owner wishes to be present or for larger animals, they prefer to schedule those at the close of the day. For very sick or large animals, some vets will perform the procedure at your home. Check with your vet to find out if this is an option. Most of the time, these appointments will be scheduled after the vet’s office has closed. Home procedures can be more expensive as the vet may charge for an after-hours off-site visit, plus the removal of the pet. Some animal behaviorists feel that having a pet euthanized at home can be more traumatic for the humans and the pet. Your pet may become distressed at the sight and smell of strangers and scary objects. As humans, we want to remember the happy times with our furry friends. Having an end of life procedure in the home may be traumatizing for some family members. Having the procedure done at the vet’s office may help keep negative connotations from the home. Having the procedure completed at the vet’s office will also help in the event of an emergency.
Before taking your pet in for their final visit, or having your vet visit your pet for the last time, make sure to spend some quality time with your pet. Give everyone in the family and the pet time to say goodbye and to have some positive experiences as the day approaches.
There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding to euthanize your pet. There never is a right or best time. The best we can hope for is that we didn’t wait too long and our best buddy hasn’t been under too much physical or emotional distress. In that sense, being able to end our pet’s pain even when it may mean more for ourselves is a blessing for us, one might think of it as a final act of love to those who have given so much love to us.
For detailed information on euthanasia, visit the AVMA (http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/euthanasia.pdf). For resources on coping with grief, visit the Association for Death Education and Counseling® (http://www.adec.org/Coping_with_Loss/1794.htm#PetLoss).