People often say to me that the hardest part about my job must be putting pets to sleep. Full disclosure, this is actually not the hardest part. Make no mistake, I love my patients, and having to let them go does break my heart. But I also think that having the ability to release our pets from suffering is one of the greatest gifts that we have to give.
Euthanasia often sneaks up on us, even when we know it is in the near future. I think it can be very helpful to think about and know the process before the time comes, so that you are better prepared emotionally. I will go over things that I tell owners to think about as the time approaches.
Making a life-or-death decision can be daunting, especially when you are close to the situation. The thing that you have to remember is that euthanasia is a way to help ease the suffering that can no longer be alleviated in other ways. You aren’t giving up on your pet, you are allowing them to be at peace.
Thankfully, our pets don’t have a concept of time. Today, yesterday and tomorrow are ideas for humans. This ability to live in the present is part of what makes our pets so refreshing. Every day when you arrive home it is the BEST. Each walk, ball throw, and brushing is the most exciting and wonderful thing.
I tell owners to think about these things. Does your dog love to walk, fetch, swim, eat, sleep next to you? Does your cat love certain spots, certain treats or groomings? Certainly, as our pets age, they will be less able to run and jump, but their likes will also shift. I suggest that owners write on a calendar the days that their pets still did the activities they love, and how much of the day they did them. It is often surprising to look at actual data and see that your pet is actually seeming content 75% of the time or only 20%.
When you are running out of treatment options to keep a pet comfortable or happy, I suggest starting the calendar to help you see if your pet still has a good quality of life. There comes a time when we start to want to keep our pet alive for us. This isn’t malicious, we often don’t even know we are doing it. It just seems easy to try one more thing, and impossibly hard to say that those things aren’t working anymore.
When we come to that decision, the process is painless for your pet. We first give them an injection that slowly puts them under anesthesia. Depending on your veterinarian’s protocol, this may be faster or slower. This is the same medication used to put animals under anesthesia for surgery. After this, they are completely unconscious. This means that your pet will not know if you are there or not. I never like to make people feel like they need to stay for any part of this that makes them uncomfortable. Part of our job is to make sure your pet has a painless, peaceful passing whether you are there or not.
Euthanasia is a difficult time, as we must end one of the most important relationships in our life. However, it is also a gift that we can give our pets in return for all the love they have given us. Their passing is far harder for us humans left behind, just as is the decision. Your veterinarian is here to help guide you in this choice, though often what we need to do is listen closely to what our pet is telling us.