Making the decision to euthanize a pet can be one of the most difficult things a pet owner will go through. Whether your pet has been sick for a long time, or your companion has simply reached the end of their time on this mortal plane, it's never easy, no matter how prepared we are. For some people, euthanasia may seem scary as many don't really know what to expect, and may not be sure what the process actually entails. Understanding the medical procedure, and what happens from start to finish, may help some pet owners find peace of mind when considering their options.
How to know when it’s time
Many people can tell when it's approaching time to consider humanely euthanize when their pets' quality of life becomes poor. Whether your pet is chronically ill or is simply reaching the later years of his life, some fairly common, obvious signs of a diminishing quality of life can include loss of appetite, incontinence, difficulty breathing, falling, and bumping into things or becoming easily confused, although these symptoms will vary from pet to pet. Some people like to think of five or so things that their pet loves to do, like going for car rides, or eating dinner. Then, once their pet is no longer able to do or enjoy half of those things, it may be time to speak to your veterinarian about end of life care and options.
It's not uncommon for people to have a hard time understanding whether their pet's quality of life has taken a turn for the worse. After all, we're with our pets day in and day out, and coupled with the emotional attachment we share with them, it can be hard to look at things from an objective point of view. Asking for the medical opinion of your veterinarian, along with input from a close, trustworthy friend or family member, may help you move forward along in the decision making process. For some people, having a number to assign to our pet's quality of life can be helpful in making the decision to euthanize, and there are a number of online surveys, checklists, and calculators that can help shed light on the reality of the situation.
What happens during euthanasia
Pet euthanasia is commonly referred to as "being put to sleep" or "being put down," both of which are kind and accurate descriptions of what happens during the procedure. After you have spoken with your veterinarian, who should explain exactly what the procedure entails, an IV cathedar is usually placed in your pet's vein, which will allow for quick and easy administration of any shots needed during the euthanasia process. Then, depending on the circumstances of your specific pet, a sedative may be given to your pet, which will leave them calm and relaxed, causing them to become very drowsy or unconscious. To stop the heartbeat and brain function, a fatal dose of sodium pentobarbital is given, which American Humane assures will result in a gentle and painless end to your pet's life in a matter of minutes.
After your pet's heart has stopped beating, it's not uncommon to see your pet move parts of her body, which the American Veterinary Medical Association assures are not signs of pain or life, but muscle spasms. Because your pet no longer has control over her muscles, her eyes and mouth will likely remain open, which may be a shocking sight for even the most prepared pet owner during such a difficult time. Your pet may also release her bowels or bladder shortly after having passed on. It's important to understand that these are completely natural functions of the body and are not indicators that your pet is still alive — your veterinarian will confirm that your pet has passed by listening for a heartbeat through a stethoscope.
Having your pet humanely euthanized can be done either at home, or in your veterinarian's office, either of which will follow the same medical protocol. An at-home procedure is preferred to some as it allows for a more personal and intimate setting. This may also be less stressful for a pet for whom going to the vet is a traumatic experience, or for pets who cannot easily get up out of bed, or into the car. These appointments do need to be scheduled in advance. In-office procedures can also be scheduled, or may be the best choice in emergency situations, or for pets who should not wait or may not be able to wait for an at-home visit. Whether at-home or in-office, your medical professional will allow you time alone with your pet, before and after they have gone, to say goodbye.
After they have gone
Popular after life options for pets include cremation and burial, which are done at the discretion of the pet owner. Both at-home and in-office euthanasia services make afterlife options easy for grieving pet owners, and unless you will be burying your pet yourself, have local crematory services who handle all details, from pick up to drop off, to additional memorial services.
Saying goodbye to a beloved pet will look different for everyone — there is no single way, right way, or wrong way to grieve. Finding support from friends, family, or other pet owners who have lost their companion animals can be of great help during the mourning process, as countless thoughts and feelings will arise as you adjust to, and eventually accept life without your pet. Among feelings of sadness, mourning, longing and loss, sometimes, people who have euthanized their pets may be overcome with feelings of guilt as well, worrying that they made the decision either too soon or too late. If you need help during this painful time, there are countless grief hotlines designed specifically for those who have lost their pets, including the ASPCA pet loss hotline at 877-434-3310, along with several national and local options.