It is never easy to say goodby to a beloved family pet. While sometimes we are fortunate when nature simply takes its course, there are many other times when a pet is suffering from illness or old age and as owners we need to make some hard decisions for them. Loving pets comes with a unique set of responsibilities in this regard as they can’t speak for themselves to inform us of their pain or disability.
Balancing the different factors in a pet’s quality of life is unique to each pet and family. For example, while mobility may be very important for a large breed of dog, a smaller dog may still have good quality of life being less mobile as long as the owner can provide the required support. Another example would be that some pets absolutely live for their daily bread, and when their appetite is gone it is clear that they are really suffering, but for others who only eat to live, a diminished appetite might not be a big problem. The decision is almost always found in that loving relationship; you know your pet best, and if you don’t feel that he/she is enjoying the daily activities that used to bring such delight, then it most likely time to let him/her go with dignity.
At Country Animal Hospital, we never take the decision to say good-by lightly. We have created a special room for grieving families to remove as much as possible the stressful feeling of being at the doctor’s office. In our grieving room, we have a sofa, cozy rug, plants, and a small stereo with CDs that was donated by a bereaved client in memory of her beloved dog. When a family decides it is time to euthanize a pet, every effort is made to offer a calm environment for the pet and pet owners. Pets are handled in the most gentle and respectful manner throughout and following euthanasia. Pet owners and family can be present for the procedure and are given the time they need before and afterwards with their pet.
The process itself consists of two injections. The first injection is given in the muscle, usually in a hind leg, and is a combination of sedatives. After about 5-10 minutes, the pet will be essentially under anesthesia, and unaware of anything that follows. The second injection is an overdose of a different sedative that works very quickly when given in the vein. The entire experience is usually very peaceful, and our goal is to make an excruciatingly difficult decision easier by knowing that your pet will not suffer during the process.
Because saying goodbye is difficult, we recommend having after-death plans arranged prior to your visit for euthanasia. There are several options for what can be done with your pet’s remains after this visit. You may take him/her home with you for burial; some people want them to be wrapped in a blanket, others prefer a cardboard box, and still others have built or bought a coffin. Alternatively, we work closely with a crematorium that also handles human remains and so has exceedingly high standards of care. Through them, we can offer either communal cremation where your pet will join the bodies of other pets and will eventually be scattered on a field of wild flowers behind their crematorium, or private cremation where your pet will go individually and will be returned to our clinic in either a plastic or wooden urn.
Whether or not you choose to stay in the room, and how you choose to dispose of your pet’s body are personal decisions with no right or wrong answers. When you decide to make this final visit, don’t feel pressured by others to do their right thing; choose the option that is best for you. The bereavement process is different for every pet owner. Some only take a couple days for mourning while others take months. It is completely normal to mourn the loss of your pet, and you should never feel obligated to put a time limit on what is the “right” amount of time. While our staff at CAH is always happy to help, sometimes people need outside support for such an emotional time, and there is an excellent resource for bereaved pet owners through the Tufts Vet School (https://vet.tufts.edu/petloss/) if you ever need to talk through this difficult process.
If you have any questions about the process of putting a pet to sleep, or want to schedule an appointment to see if it would be beneficial for your pet’s condition, contact our office at your convenience.