So, I am going to introduce a topic that isn’t very uplifting, but for some reason always comes up around the holidays — end of life. We often have very specific and concrete memories and traditions around the holidays. In contrast to the very slow changes we see daily, sometimes these traditions can make us realize how much things have changed or how bad things have gotten for our pet. We also have more other people around who give us an outside perspective (on everything, am I right?!)

It can be especially hard to face these decisions when there is so much joy around. However, the root of the word euthanasia translates to “good death.” This is how I like to think about it, since euthanasia is a peaceful end when medicine can no longer keep our pets comfortable or happy. 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.

Euthanasia isn’t hard for our pets, it is only hard for us. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be or that it isn’t OK to struggle. However, we often shift this decision and make it about us. We aren’t ready, we don’t want to make that choice, we don’t want to go through it. As caregivers, these are some of the burdens that we must face. We are in charge of making choices for them, but often if we are listening closely our pets actually make the choice. We just need to listen.

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 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. Now instead of “a little less,” you can quantify it. One bad day a week is different than five, and we don’t always have the ability to assign a quantity to them from memory.

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 bad or tricky, 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 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. A good veterinarian and technician team will be there to give your pet comfort and love no matter what.

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 trying to say.

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