A guide to euthanasia, the death of a pet bereavement. Ideally we would like our pets to die peacefully in their sleep, and indeed many do. We are also familiar with the idea that injured, sick or very old pets “go off to die’,” but often they die from dehydration, starvation or self-neglect because they are unable or unwilling to drink, eat or even seek attention. Sadly some pets do go missing, never to return, and this makes it hard to let go because there is always hope, however faint, that they will one day return. Equally sadly, others die suddenly for no apparent reason or meet an untimely end in an accident such as being hit by a car. The disappearance or sudden death of a well-loved pet causes much anguish because the owner has had no time to prepare for this and may be unable to say goodbye in the way that they would have wished.
With recent advancements in pet health care and medical knowledge, most pets have long and healthy lives, but some will also reach a point when life is no longer enjoyable. When a pet reaches such a point in his life, the owner must decide whether it would be kinder for their pet to be put to sleep to prevent further suffering. Euthanasia is an act of love toward a pet that is no longer able to enjoy life.
What is euthanasia? Euthanasia literally means “gentle death.” Other terms you may hear are ”put to sleep,” “put down,” put out of its misery”.
The decision to end a life is never easy. It is a personal, loving decision to euthanize a pet for which the quality of life has deteriorated. It takes courage to assume this last duty and it is our last responsibility to a pet that has given us love and companionship. There is also no easy human comparison. The bond between a pet and its owner is a very special one. It is easy to become emotionally caught up in keeping your best friend alive when you know that there is no hope of him regaining his health.
Points to Consider Your vet is an invaluable source of advice when you feel the time for euthanasia may be approaching. He or she cannot make the decision for you, but they can help you to decide when it is time to let go.
- You need to consider things from the pet’s point of view.
- Is your pet in incurable pain or continual discomfort which cannot be alleviated by drugs?
- Is treatment of their condition no longer possible?
- Have they suffered severe injuries from which they will never recover?
- Do they have an age-related or illness-related condition that cannot be alleviated and which now causes misery, e.g. advanced senility or incontinence?
- Are they suffering from a terminal illness that has now reduced their quality of life to such a point that they are no longer happy?
Making the decision The decision almost always causes much soul-searching, especially if you and your dog have been companions for several years. What matters to the dog is quality of life, not length of life, since a dog has little concept of future time. An illness may be treatable for a period of time, but there eventually comes a point when the dog no longer enjoys life. He may be in visible distress or withdrawn.
Having seen your pet when he is happy and healthy, most owners recognize the signs given by a pet that is miserable. Your vet will be able to tell you whether your pet has a treatable ailment or is approaching the end of their life.
Warning signs are:
- Not eating or drinking
- Withdrawn or lethargic
- Neglecting himself
- Signs of pain—They may cry out if touched
- Cannot get comfortable
- Unwilling to move about
- Tumours and/or injuries
- Unable to hold head up when at rest
Since some of these can also be symptoms of treatable illness, you need to discuss your pet’s welfare with your vet. They will be able to advise you and help you to make the right decision for your loved one, but they cannot make the decision for you.
A Last Goodbye Sometimes it is possible to delay euthanasia for a while without causing suffering, for example where the your pet has a terminal illness or is extremely old and the euthanasia is planned in advance. You may wish to give your pet a last night of pampering, its favourite foods or foods that were normally forbidden. This is a time in which to say goodbye and reassure them that they are much loved. However, if your pet is suffering, or is already under anaesthetic, they will not enjoy having their misery prolonged. We understand how very difficult this decision is and we are available to speak with regarding your decision.