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What to Know About Euthanasia

Based on an article that first appeared at

Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day is on August 28, and we thought we'd touch on a subject that surely isn't one that any of us like to think about - pet euthanasia. Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that they become not only part of our families but also part of our hearts, so losing a cat or dog can be absolutely devastating. If you know, however, that the time is likely approaching for you to let go of one of your senior pets, it can help to know more about what's in store. The overall procedure might vary slightly from practice to practice, but we give you a general idea of what you can expect from pet euthanasia below.

What are some signs that it might be time?

The ultimate decision has to be based around not just the pet, but also the family. Oftentimes, the pet will have good days and bad days, which surely makes the decision all the more agonizing. But if the bad days are such that people aren't always available to carry the dog outside, for example, and the dog loses its dignity and has to soil itself in the house, that is something to take into consideration. So it's really a matter of finding a balance between the burden on the family and the quality of life for the pet.

It has to be the right time for everybody. We don't want to rush it. On the other hand, we don't want to let it degrade to the point that the patient's quality of life is no longer there. Hindsight is always 2020, but some people do hang on perhaps a bit too long and inadvertently cause more pain than was necessary. It's something that your veterinarian will be able to work with you on and help you with that decision. You might begin to assess the situation on a day-to-day basis, asking yourself, "What's the quality of life here? Is the dog or cat or other pet interacting with you like they normally would? Are they able to maintain some sort of a normal semblance of a lifestyle?

The more they're able to do that and the more they're joyous, it's another day, another meal, and another opportunity to be with Mom and Dad. Of course, you want them to hang on. But if they're in agonizing pain and soiling themselves and refusing food, they're trying to tell you what their decision is...as heartbreaking as that is.

Senior dog

Are there different methods of euthanasia for pets?

Typically, for cats and dogs, the veterinarian will sedate your pet so they do not feel anything. This allows the family to be with your pet for the 15 or so minutes it takes for the sedative to set in and for the pet to enter the "twilight" state of a peaceful sleep. We welcome pet owners to stay with their pet for the entire process. This gives them the opportunity to let their beloved fur baby know that, "Hey, I'm here for you." If owners prefer to not to stay for the final injection, our caring medical staff will be with your pet during their final moments and after, no matter what they decide.

Do pets suffer when euthanized?

Veterinarians diminish the cognitive functions and then release their inhibitions, so it's not painful at all. Sometimes they will vocalize just because they're feeling the effects of the drugs. It's not common, but it can happen, and it does not indicate pain.

Grey-faced Great Dane

How do I prepare my pet for euthanasia? Is there anything I can do?

Just be there for them. If they're soiled and they're okay with being cleaned up and they enjoy that, that's fine. If they're not necessarily in the best presenting manner and they don't really want to be messed with, be cautious about doing anything that would increase pain.

How long does the procedure take?

This is something that most veterinarians understandably don't want to rush, so they're not going to schedule you minutes before the clinic closes. You'll typically be asked to come in a few minutes early because the medical staff will want to explain what's going to occur and go over cremation options. Families saying goodbye typically spend about 45 minutes at the hospital.

Why do some families choose to do in-home euthanasia and some go to their veterinarian's office?

It's typically just a matter of preference. We see that in people, too, as some people make it very clear that they don't want to die in a nursing home or hospital. They want to actually go home and be in their familiar surroundings. And that's just something that we in veterinary medicine have to provide to people, and we do. There are definitely options for people to do in-home euthanasia.

Dog paws laying down

Are there support groups for those who are grieving the loss of a pet?

Absolutely. You almost certainly have one in your area. It's a very difficult time. People are sometimes closer to their pets than they are to their family members because the pet is very forgiving, loyal, and they're always there. As veterinarians, we want people to recognize that euthanizing a pet is often one of the hardest decisions you'll have to make in your life but, in the case of extreme pain oh the part of your pet, also one of the bravest. If you have any questions about the euthanasia process or anything else, please don't hesitate to give us a call.

Old golden retriever in field
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