Preparing for euthanasia: our vet’s advice

By Dr Ingrid de Wet

Euthanasia is painful to contemplate. We love our pets so much that the idea of parting from them is something we don’t want to think about. Sadly though, euthanasia is an option we may have to address at some point in their lives due to illness and suffering.

As difficult as it is, it is important to discuss possible euthanasia and to have a plan in place when it comes to that time. We would advise that your family has a discussion long before the time on what you would like for your pet and how to make their last days dignified. This discussion will help establish the values that each family member has and make it easier when you need to make a decision later.

Questions to ask yourselves

  • How are we going to assess our pet’s quality of life?
  • Are we willing to do everything we can to keep them going (e.g. hospice care) or will we make the decision to euthanase them earlier, should they fall ill?
  • How do you feel about chemotherapy?
  • How do you feel about euthanasia?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it is important that the whole family agrees on a general plan for their pet to prevent emotional disagreements at a later stage.

As a veterinarian I feel privileged to be able to offer euthanasia to our patients. They are our loyal companions for years and I feel that letting them go peacefully and without pain is the best gift we can give them when it comes to the end of their lives. That being said, the decision to euthanase and going through the process is far from easy.

It is a huge responsibility to make the decision and it can be a huge burden. This is the time to partner with your veterinarian and have a frank discussion about your pet’s quality of life, how you feel about euthanasia and about the best course of action for your pet.

In some cases, our pets are so ill that the decision to euthanase is the only possible option and it is clear that euthanasia will end any further suffering. But in many cases the situation is something of a grey area. Though we usually know that at some point we will have to bid them farewell, it is difficult to know when is the right time.

The following can assist in making this important decision

  1. Do they have an illness that we cannot treat, which has a poor prognosis?
  2. Have they stopped eating, or is it difficult to get them to eat?
  3. Are they vomiting often (more than twice per week)?
  4. Are they in pain?
  5. Are they secluding themselves and interacting less with the family?
  6. Have they lost their enthusiasm for the fun things in life (e.g. walks)?
  7. Is looking after them becoming a burden, either emotionally, financially or in any other way?

If you answer yes to any of the above questions, I would recommend setting up an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss all the options for your pet. The vet may be able to suggest a different treatment plan or may then recommend euthanasia and will be there to walk you through the process.

What happens during a euthanasia?

All of our staff have been through euthanasia with one or more of their own pets and we do understand the emotional turmoil one goes through. Your vet will be available to answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to take your time and discuss all of your concerns. Many clients feel the need to justify their decision to euthanase the pet to their vet. However, remember please that we understand that you are showing your love to your elderly pet by ending their suffering in a dignified manner.

Once you are at peace with your decision, your vet may decide to sedate your pet prior to euthanasia or she/he may immediately place a catheter in your pet’s vein to administer the euthanasia solution. She may take your pet to another room to place the catheter. This is to reduce the stress on you and your pet.

You will then be given the opportunity to spend some more time with your pet and when you are as ready as you’ll ever be, she will administer the euthanasia solution. This is essentially an overdose of anaesthetic and your pet will go to sleep very quickly. Within seconds, his/her heart will stop beating. The vet will confirm this and will tell you when it has occurred. You can then spend some more time with your pet if you desire.

Many times, your pet may take a few gasps after their hearts have stopped. This can be quite surprising so it helps to be prepared for it. This is purely muscle relaxation and you need not be alarmed.

At our clinics after the euthanasia, we will arrange for a burial or cremation of your choice. You can have your pets’ ashes returned or a tree planted in memory of your pet.

How do I prepare for the euthanasia?

Each person is different and will deal with this differently. Listen to what your heart says and if your pet’s condition allows, take the time to come to terms with the decision. Some people like to do something special with their pets, for example, give them a special meal or take them to their favourite place.

Prepare the family for the euthanasia. Your pets-euthanasia: how to break the news to your child It may help to deal with the paperwork and payment before bringing your pet in, to help you get through the euthanasia more smoothly.

Think about the following questions

  1. Do you want your pet euthanased at home or at the clinic?
  2. Do you want to be present at the time of your pet’s euthanasia?
  3. Who do you want to be present?
  4. What would you like to do with your pet’s body (burial, cremation)?
  5. Will I be able to drive home afterwards? Sometimes it is good to enlist the help of a friend or family member.

Please discuss your preferences with our receptionists and vets and we will do our best to accommodate you.

Be sure to take time to grieve. Losing a pet is like losing a family member and a close friend and it takes time to come to terms with it.

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose. For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”- Helen Keller