Euthanasia (“good death”) refers to a deliberate intervention carried out to relieve pain or other suffering – this is usually pain or suffering that cannot be cured or managed adequately.
Deciding when the time is right and how to do it is one of the most difficult decisions a pet owner has to make. Recognising this, we are always available to talk to you, either in person so we can assess your animal, or on the phone when we can give more general advice.
Unfortunately, pets do not tend to communicate clear signals to us that the time is right and that they are ‘ready to die’. This means we need to consider questions such as:
- How much do you think your pet is still enjoying life
- Do they still seem happy?
- Is their overall quality of life still acceptable?
- Urinary/faecal incontinence
- Mental capacity/ confusion
- Breathing effort
- What is the prognosis associated with any illnesses your pet has?
- Is the treatment going to improve their quality of life?
- Evidence of discomfort – this can be subtle, like small changes in behaviour. If your pet suddenly stops doing something they have always done or starts doing something they have never done before, it might be worth having them assessed. If your pet is sleeping more and reduces their interaction with you it might be a sign of pain.
It is sometimes worth keeping a diary of good and bad days so you can look back and be more objective about how many bad days your pet has actually had. Being well informed about your pet’s illness can also help you decide on an appropriate point that will trigger your decision to arrange euthanasia (eg when your pet stops eating for more than one day or can no longer exercise without struggling to breathe).
Once the decision has been made, you will then have to consider where you would like it done and who you would like to be there. If your pet is happy at the surgery we can make an appointment for you, usually at the end of consultations (morning, afternoon or evening) which will allow plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed.
You could choose to leave your dog in the car if he worries about visiting the vets or even arrange a home visit. We try to accommodate these whenever possible but this can be difficult if it falls on a weekend or during the night. Some people choose not to be with their pet at the very last stage as they are too upset. This is not a problem and in your absence a nurse will always be available to cuddle and reassure your pet for you.
Very often a nurse will assist in any case, usually to hold a leg for easy access to the vein where we inject the drug. We use an overdose of an anaesthetic called pentobarbital which means your pet goes to sleep first, before breathing and heart beat cease.
Once injected your pet will feel an initial sensation that is similar to us experiencing an anaesthetic in a hospital– the actual process usually takes seconds. The vet then checks for a heartbeat and confirms that he or she has gone. Your pet might pass urine or stools and may twitch or gasp but these are normal reflexes than can occur anytime after the heart stops beating. Whilst this can be disturbing for you, your pet will know nothing about it. This is the procedure for dogs and cats. For smaller animals like hamsters and guinea pigs, we usually anaesthetise them first, in a small chamber using odourless gas so as not to cause them any panic, before the vet injects them with the euthanasia solution.
Once your pet has been put to sleep, there are a number of different options. We try to discuss these options with you before putting your pet to sleep or if you know that the decision is coming soon, you might want to discuss these with your vet or a nurse beforehand in order to minimise your stress on the day so the decision is made.
One of the options is cremation. This is done for us by a registered pet crematorium, CPC Cares, (www.cpccares.com) who we have used for a long time and have visited ourselves. You have the option of a communal cremation which means several animals are cremated together, or an individual cremation where the ashes of your pet are returned to you for scattering or keeping. It normally takes between 7-10 days before the ashes are ready for you to collect from us.
Some pet owners prefer to bury their pet in the garden. If you choose to do this make sure you cover the area with paving to avoid interference by foxes.
Pet bereavement is something that can affect us all differently and there are a number of organisations offering emotional support. The Blue Cross is one of these and clients who have used them have given us very positive feedback. Alternatively you could visit the Ralph Site, a non-profit website that provides support to assist pet owners at this difficult time.
If you have any questions regarding euthanasia please ring the surgery on 01923 223321 to speak to a vet or nurse.