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Time to say goodbye - euthanasia

Discuss any questions or concerns that you may have about your pet's health or quality of life with your vet or make an appointment with FirstVet. Do not be afraid to discuss this sooner rather than later so that you can make an informed decision when the time comes. Many of the signs associated with old age, such as arthritis or dental disease, can be treated. Often your pet’s problems will be manageable and early treatment reduces suffering.Pets often don’t show obvious signs of pain, especially with chronic pain; pets tend to try to adapt their behaviour to cope. Your pet could be in pain if you have noticed a change in behaviour, a loss of appetite, or a reluctance to interact with you 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is restless, cannot seem to get comfortable, is sitting or lying in an abnormal position or if your pet seems tense or withdrawn and has lost their normal enthusiasm for life. Always discuss your pet’s symptoms with a veterinarian. It is important to note that these signs can also be caused by problems other than pain.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Arriving at the decision to euthanase your pet

Our pets are an important part of the family and the decision to say goodbye is never easy. It may help to talk it over with your family and friends. 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.

What happens during euthanasia?

Make an appointment at your veterinary clinic and explain the situation to the receptionist, who may be able to choose a quieter time for your visit. It can be a good idea for a friend or family member to go with you for support and perhaps having some time off work will be useful. Some veterinarians offer house visits for euthanasia appointments. There are also mobile veterinary clinics that can visit you at home and veterinarians that provide a special euthanasia service. 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, and 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.

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. Do not be embarrassed about showing your emotions, veterinary staff expect you 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. Most people opt for cremation to be arranged by the clinic but there are often local companies in your area that will also provide this service. Your vet will be able to give you all the options or contact FirstVet and make an appointment to discuss the options with one of our vets. You can also speak to friends who may have gone through this previously. There will be pet cemeteries in your local area or you can take the body home for burial.

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. 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 a Pet Bereavement Support Service, such as the Blue Cross or SupportLine.

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Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.

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