Our pets are beloved members of our family and seeing them unwell can be heartbreaking. Unfortunately, there are some illnesses that pets are unable to recover from. In the case of terminal illness and/or debilitating pain, one of the kindest things that we can do for them is to relieve them of that burden by making the difficult decision to put them to sleep.
Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you on when it is time to consider euthanizing your pet. However, there are some signs and symptoms to look for that would indicate that your pet is no longer experiencing a good quality of life. If you notice these, it would then be advisable to contact your veterinarian to determine if euthanasia would be the most humane course of action.
These signs include:
Chronic labored breathing, breathlessness and/or coughing
Chronic pain that cannot be controlled by medication (your veterinarian can advise if this is the case)
Frequent diarrhea and/or vomiting that leads to dehydration or severe weight loss
Inability to stand or move around
Disinterest in food or eating
Incontinent to the stage where they are frequently soiling themselves
No interest in communication with family members, treats, games, or other previously enjoyed activity
Zest for life is non-existent
While euthanasia is never an easy decision to make, a small benefit is that it allows family members the time to say their final goodbyes. This opportunity for final displays of love and affection with their pets helps to ease them into the grieving process. It is especially important to prepare young children as this may be their first experience of bereavement.
Many veterinarians will allow you to be present during the euthanasia procedure so that you can comfort your pet as they enter into their final journey. However, while this is a personal decision, it is not recommended that young children be present during this time.
Understanding what happens during a euthanasia procedure before the actual event can be beneficial. Not only will you understand the medical process, but you can be comforted by the knowledge that the way in which your pet will be put to sleep will be peaceful and completely pain-free. Your veterinarian will explain the entire procedure to you, but if you require further clarification of any part of the process, please don't hesitate to ask.
Smaller to mid-sized pets are usually placed on a table, whilst larger animals are more comfortable on the floor. Be sure to bring their favorite blanket or bed to give them added comfort during this time. A veterinary technician will usually hold your pet still to ensure that the procedure is done swiftly and smoothly, but if your pet is unable to stay still for the procedure, then the veterinarian may give him a sedative beforehand.
Most often an IV catheter is placed into a vein in the front or rear leg of your pet to ensure that the vein does not rupture when the euthanizing drug is injected. Your veterinarian will then use this vein to inject your pet with an overdose of sodium pentobarbital, or other anesthetic drug, which will cause your pet to fall into unconsciousness, before slowing and then stopping the heart altogether.
Your veterinarian will then use a stethoscope to confirm that the heart has stopped beating. For a few minutes after the process, you may witness involuntary muscle twitching or breathing from your pet and the bladder and bowels may release. These are all perfectly normal occurrences with no cause for concern. You are then usually given the option to spend a few minutes alone with your pet.
Ahead of the euthanasia process, you will be asked whether you would prefer for your pet to be cremated or prepared for burial. Cremation is a very popular option, after which you can scatter your pet's ashes in their favorite walking spot, keep them in an urn, or arrange for them to be made into jewelry or a paperweight.
Alternatively, you may wish to bury your pet. If you want to bury your pet at home, be sure to check any local ordinances for restrictions. There are also pet cemeteries located across the US, which your veterinarian should be able to advise you on where to find the closest one.