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Making the Decision


created at: 2010/09/23How Do I Know When It Is Time?
A decision concerning euthanasia is one of the most difficult ones you will ever have to face. For sick animals Quality of Life is not just important for your pet but also for you and your family and you will need to consider what you can realistically manage. For example, sometimes an animal is healthy but may be dangerous which might be a reason for euthanasia when all other options have been explored.

Along with your family and friends, your veterinarian can help guide you to the right time. They can give you a prognosis and the likely outcomes of any treatment. They can help you to manage any pain that might be present until you can make the decision that it’s time for your pets life to be completed. Your vet can’t make the decision for you- only with you. . You can measure Quality of Life and if there is more pain than pleasure in life, or if your pet is critically injured, or if the emotional or financial cost of treatment is beyond your means, euthanasia is an entirely appropriate and valid option. If there is anything that you don’t understand ask to have it explained again, for example what the costs and consequences of long-term medical care may be. It’s a good idea to discuss everything with your family make sure you are as prepared as possible having said and done all you need to. Re-visit your responses to what constitutes a ‘good death’ for your pet and make sure you are in accord with these (link to page). Saying your last words to your pet can be heart wrenching and sad but is an important step in knowing you have done your best for them and in preparing to live without them by your side.

What happens in euthanasia?

Once you have decided the time has come, the procedure needs to be carried out by a veterinarian. The euthanasia can take place at the veterinary hospital or at home. It is important that your pet feels comfortable and that the procedure isn’t rushed. If you decide to have the euthanasia done at the vets, ask if you can bring a cushion or a favorite rug for your pet to lie on. If you cant face being there, usually the veterinary nurse will gently hold them for the procedure. Veterinary nurses are very compassionate and their kind words and soothing touch will help your pet’s passing. You can discuss the best way with your vet.

The vet might give a little sedative so that your pet isn’t anxious worrying about you. Sometimes they will place a catheter into a vein to give the injection. Euthanasia is a way of inducing death painlessly and peacefully by using a very concentrated form anesthetic drug. The drug is injected into the bloodstream via a needle or catheter and goes to the heart and brain in the following few seconds. It acts very quickly and almost immediately the animal will lose consciousness and relax, and the heart and brain activity will stop a short time after. Sometimes the animal will start to breath more rapidly and they might gasp. It only lasts about 30 seconds, and is simply due to the muscles relaxing and the brain shutting down the operation of the lungs. Sometimes the bowels and bladder will also relax.

When do I know they have died?

When an animal has died its heart doesn’t pump and it cannot breath anymore. So your vet will check for a heartbeat and can determine that death has occurred. If you are ever not sure look for a breath, place a little mirror up near the nostrils and see if there is any condensation on the mirror. The eyes will not normally close like they do in the movies, its more normal for them to be open. You can gently close the lids but they usually don’t shut all the way.

What happens after?

There are many options for after death care that are best discussed with your family and vet ahead of time. You pet will be either buried or cremated. If you are at the vets, once your pet has died their body is wrapped and a plastic sheet placed underneath their bottom. They might be placed in a special bag, which prevents any seepage of their bodily fluids. There are specialist services that collect your pet for private cremation or burial. You are also able to transport your pet home for burial if that is the decision you have made and you have the space to do so.

Author Dr Barbara Fougere