Sad old dog and cat euthanasia

When is it time to say goodbye to your pet?

Making the decision to say goodbye to your dog or cat is the one of the most difficult things that you face as a pet owner. Our animals are dear friends, a family member, from whom we do not want to be separated. It is very sad to make the decision to for euthanasia. Here we answer your most common questions and thoughts about saying goodbye to your beloved dog or cat.Sometimes, a decision has to be made quickly. If your cat or dog becomes acutely ill or perhaps so badly injured there may be no alternative. Other times, the signs are gradual or less severe, and it can be harder to know when it is time. An old or sick dog or cat does not show pain like we do. They cannot speak, so we have to interpret the signs. Sadly, the fact that your pet is still eating can be misleading.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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Is my pet in pain or is it old age?

Get help from a vet who you trust. Do not be afraid to discuss this sooner rather than later. Discuss the dog or cat's health and well-being. Sometimes it is not easy to see the animal from an objective perspective. Maybe we do not want - or cannot - see that the animal is in pain and feeling unwell. You are welcome to contact one of our vets here at FirstVet for a first call.

Pets often don’t show pain by crying or howling, especially with chronic pain such as arthritis; pets tend to try to adapt their behaviour to cope. Many of the signs of old age, such as arthritis, can be helped with medication. Often your pet’s problems will be treatable, and early treatment reduces suffering. Your pet could be in pain if you have noticed a change in behaviour, a loss of appetite or a reluctance to play or move around. It may also be a sign of pain if your pet is restless, cannot seem to get comfortable, is sitting or lying in an abnormal position, or if your pet seems tense or withdrawn and has lost their normal enthusiasm for life. It is important to note that these signs can also be caused by problems other than pain.

Questions to think about include:

  • Does your pet still have a good quality of life?
  • Can your pet still eat, drink, sleep and move around reasonably comfortably?
  • Does he or she respond to your presence and greet you?
  • Does feeding time still attract some interest?

Persistent and incurable inability to eat, vomiting, signs of pain, distress or discomfort, or difficulty in breathing are all indications that euthanasia should be considered. You and your family know your pet better than anyone else, so try to make an informed judgement on his or her quality of life. A vet will help you with this and may make a recommendation. If you are monitoring for an improvement in your pet’s condition then setting a time limit in which this is expected may be a helpful option. Although this is what we would like to happen, sadly very few pets die peacefully in their sleep at home. Most reach a point when their quality of life is poor and the decision for euthanasia needs to be made.

It is common to feel guilty for having to make the decision or questioning whether you are doing the right thing. It is normal to feel some doubt and this will ease in time. It is a heart-wrenching decision to have to make but making the decision shows the amount of love you have for your pet and your ability to put their care and wellbeing before your own thoughts of loss.

Making an appointment for euthanasia

When it's time, call your veterinary clinic and make an appointment. It's a difficult conversation, but the staff fully understand how difficult this time is. They may also be able to choose a quieter time for your visit. Be sure to ask any questions or let them know if you have any special requests.

Can the vet come to our house?

Yes, some vets offer this service, while others only accept clinic visits. Call your vet to find out what the options are, especially with regards to safety measures around Covid-19.

Should the children come along?

Children are welcome to join for a euthanasia appointment. However, this is a very personal decision. As a parent, you know your child best. There is some useful literature about helping with children's thoughts about death and grief.

What happens during the euthanasia?

It can be a good idea for a friend or family member with you for support, and perhaps having some time off work will be useful too. If your pet is already hospitalised, then you can ask to visit and say goodbye if you wish. However, if your pet is under an anaesthetic, it may be kinder to agree to euthanasia without waking him or her up. You can request to see them afterwards.

The vet will explain the procedure and what to expect. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or discuss your worries. You will be asked to sign a consent form to show that you understand what will happen and give your permission for euthanasia. The appointment will be very calm and your pet will be treated with dignity and respect throughout. Pets who are likely to become agitated or stressed by the situation can be given a light sedative beforehand to help make their last moments more relaxed.

A cannula will be placed in a blood vessel on one front leg, through which the euthanasia injection is administered. The animal will sink deep sleep before becoming unconscious, and finally the heart will stop. This happens over a few minutes. Sometimes there may be some heavy reflex breathing or sighing afterwards. This is normal but it is good to be aware of, as it may be alarming for some owners. The vet will listen to the heart to check that it has stopped. Your dog or cat will not close its eyes.

Not everyone decides to stay with their pet until the end. It may be a comfort to you to know that euthanasia is usually a quick and gentle process but try not to feel guilty if you feel that you do not want to stay; it is a very personal choice. You can rely on your vet and nurse to treat your pet sympathetically in your absence. Afterwards you should be offered the opportunity to be alone with your pet for a few minutes to say a final goodbye. It is entirely natural to feel upset when your pet dies. After all, your pet is a beloved family member. Everyone reacts differently. Do not be embarrassed about showing your emotions, veterinary staff expect owners to be upset.

What happens after the euthanasia?

Do not be embarrassed to ask the vet or the nurse if you wish to keep a lock of hair, or perform a ceremony such as saying a prayer. Vets are quite used to such requests and will be very sympathetic. You can also speak to friends who may have gone through this previously.

Many owners choose to have their pet’s body cremated. There are usually several options about whether or not, and how, you would like the ashes returned to you. Many pet owners then scatter the ashes in a place that has meant a lot to the animal or arrange a place in the garden. In some cases, you can choose to take the body home for burial. Please check with your local authorities for guidelines on burying your pet at home. There will also be pet cemeteries in your local area.

Be prepared for the house to feel empty on your return. It may take time for you to adapt and come to terms with your loss. If your dog or cat has passed away quickly, it can be difficult to understand what happened. Give yourself time to grieve and remember your pet in whichever way helps - talking, writing, looking at photos. Try to take time to treasure your memories, and talk to family and friends. It can be helpful to talk to an organisation that provides professional support, such as the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service or Confidential Emotional Support Line. Do not hesitate to seek help at the nearest health centre if you feel you need to talk to someone.

Read more: Pet bereavement advice

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