Deciding when it’s the right time to say goodbye to your pet is one of the hardest decisions we make as pet owners. For some, it’s a difficult, but an obvious decision based upon the pet’s deteriorating condition. But for other pets with chronic ailments the decision can be hazy. As a veterinarian it’s important to me to have an ongoing conversation and dialog with my pet parents about the pet’s quality of life. My belief is quality of life is more important than quantity of life during the final few days, weeks, or months. But we need to have a way to assess how a pet is doing and evaluate their quality of life. Veterinarian Dr. Katie Hilst developed the JOURNEY’s Quality of Life Scale for pets. Utilizing the important facets of quality of life listed below we can quantify a pet’s quality of life.
If your pet is experience one or more of these in varying degrees using the JOURNEY scale can help quantify your pet’s quality of life; however, it’s still important to have an open dialog with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help counsel you and support you during this difficult decision.
Euthanasia is quick, painless, and peaceful. I truly believe we treat our terminally ill pets with compassion with the goal of alleviating pain and suffering allowing our pets to die peacefully at home with their loved ones. Your veterinarian will explain what medications will be given to your pet. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have about your pet’s euthanasia. In-home euthanasia can take place wherever you wish in your home. In some situations your veterinarian may want to set an IV catheter to ensure the vein is patent. In many cases, a trained veterinary technician will hold your pet for the procedure. The veterinary technician has the skill needed to properly hold your pet so that the process goes quickly and smoothly. Your veterinarian and technician will need space to work and keep your pet comfortable, but they will assist you in finding a place where your pet can see, hear, and feel you.
The Vet Set veterinarians administer pets a sedative prior to administering the euthanasia solution. Many terminally ill pets are in chronic pain and distress, and the sedative helps them relax for their final moments. The euthanasia solution used is an overdose sodium pentobarbital which quickly causes unconsciousness and then gently stops the heartbeat. The euthanasia solution is given IV either in the front or back leg at your veterinarian’s discretion. The injection itself is not painful. Once the injection is given the heart stops beating in a matter of seconds to minutes. Your veterinarian will confirm your pet’s heart has stopped beating by listening with a stethoscope. It’s not uncommon for mild muscle twitching to take place, or for the bowels or bladder to empty. This is not cause for concern. Your veterinarian will then ask if you want some time alone with your pet.
Once you’ve made the difficult decision to euthanize your pet all family members should have the time to say their private goodbyes. Putting your pet to sleep can be the first exposure your children have to death, and explaining and helping them through the grieving process is important. Books that address the subject, such as When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers or Remembering My Pet by Machama Liss-Levinson and Molly Phinney Baskette, may be very beneficial in helping your child to deal with this loss. The euthanasia itself is very personal, and your veterinarian is there to help support you in this difficult time. It’s important that you and your pet are comfortable for a home euthanasia. Other pets in the household are generally aware that their companion is ill. Some pets will want to be near and some will want to sniff them after the euthanasia, and I believe this behavior is normal and warranted. I also think it helps with the other pet’s grieving process of losing their companion.
The Vet Set will help you coordinate how to have your pet’s body handled. Cremation is the most common request, and you can decide whether you wish to have your pet’s ashes returned to you in a private cremation. Burial is another but less common choice for your pet. Burial in the backyard is sometimes considered, but check with your local ordinances.
Losing a pet is just as hard as losing a family member or close friend. Grief can come in all shapes and forms, and it can surface in waves. Sadly, some people don’t understand the pain that comes from losing a pet, but most people have compassion for the impact pet loss can have on your life. Some people seek out counseling, and there are people who specialize in pet bereavement. If you’re having a difficult time please reach out to your family, friends, or veterinarian for support. There’s no reason you should grieve alone.
Euthanasia is a final gift of compassion to our terminally ill pets. We are able to make the decision with our veterinarian when it’s appropriate to take away their pain and suffering. It’s a difficult decision, and one that should be undertaken with the guidance of your veterinarian. If you have further questions about your pet’s quality of life or home euthanasia please reach out to The Vet Set or your veterinarian.