Sadly, pet owner will sometimes face that final day when a beloved companion may have to be humanely euthanized to end suffering from disease, injury, or just a very long life. Whether that decision is days away or years away, planning ahead can help when that time does arrive. We would like to offer a few guidelines so that you will have some idea of what to expect.
Your pet has been a very significant part of your life and this is not an easy thing for you to do. The thing to keep in mind, as you contemplate what course you will take at your pet’s final moments, is to remember that it is a completely personal experience. You have to decide what is best in your situation for you and your pet.
MAKING THE APPOINTMENT
When you have made the decision to euthanize your pet, you will need to make an appointment with your veterinarian. We prefer to make this visit the first or last appointment of our morning hours or the first or last appointment of our evening hours. We want the clinic to be as quiet as possible for you and your pet. However, we do not limit these appointments to only those times; you are welcome to make an appointment that is convenient for you during office hours.
THE APPOINTMENT—TO BE THERE OR NOT TO BE THERE
When the time for your appointment arrives, you might choose to leave your pet in the car and go in first to see if there will be any delays prior to your scheduled time. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the receptionist to let you know when the doctor will be ready to see your pet; then bring your pet directly into the exam room. There will be papers to sign, and the staff will need to know what your plans are for your pet’s final resting place.
Some circumstances may lead you to think your pet would be more comfortable and less apprehensive with some sedation prior to your visit. You may ask the veterinarian to provide an opinion about this. This can be administered orally at home prior to the appointment or more often, sedation is given in the hospital via an injection. After a short time, the pet will be relaxed and a bit drowsy.
It is your personal choice whether or not to be present when the veterinarian administers the euthanasia solution. There is not a right or a wrong choice, simply what is best for you. Many people cannot bear to see the moment of their special friend’s passing. Some may choose to stay in the waiting room during the procedure and then spend a few moments in private with their pet after it has passed. Those who are uncomfortable staying and do not want to see the pet afterwards may leave the clinic, once all the final decisions are made.
Other people cannot imagine not being with their pet during the final moments. A familiar voice or touch may help both the owner and the pet. This decision is probably even harder than “this is the time to euthanize” decision. Do you want to be there when your pet takes its last breath and gently goes “to sleep”? Will you have feelings of guilt or regret for leaving your pet at this final time? It really is your personal decision; there is no right or wrong answer.
THE LAST MOMENTS
When the veterinarian is ready to administer the euthanasia solution, the assistant will help hold your pet and put a slight amount of pressure on a vein, usually in the foreleg. This allows the veterinarian to see the vein better and aids in passing a fine needle into the vein. Many times, a small area of hair will be clipped to visualize the vein. This is the most difficult part of the procedure, and the only time the pet will feel any discomfort with the ouch of the needle. Sometimes a catheter will need to be placed in the vein to facilitate the procedure. When it is certain that the needle is within the vein, the veterinarian slowly injects the solution.
Usually within a few seconds, as the solution is slowly injected, the pet will take a slightly deeper breath, and there may be some brief movements as it drifts off into anesthetic-like sleep, then grow weak and finally lapse into what looks like a deep sleep. The pet, although completely unconscious, may continue to take a few more breaths, and there could be occasionally twitches before all movement ceases, there may be some urine leakage.
YOUR PET’S FINAL RESTING PLACE
Taking your pet home for burial.
Depending upon where you live, this is an option for some. This is nice if there are other family members (especially children) that might still need to say their goodbyes. Some could find it very difficult to be responsible for the burial of their beloved companion; others could find it a satisfying last task in the pet’s honor. Keep in mind the season you are in and the weather conditions you will be working with outside. Again, there is not a right or a wrong choice; it is what is best for you and your family.
Cremation is another choice.
Schoedinger’s Funeral Services handles our private cremations. We will call them and give them your address, phone number, and pet information. They will come out to our clinic and pick up your pet and transport him/her back to their crematory. They will carefully tag your pet to come back to you correctly, then take a small clipping of fur and a paw print to give to you later. Once everything is done, they will contact you and make arrangements for you to pick up the ashes at a chapel convenient to you. When you pick up your pet’s ashes, you will have the opportunity to select different memorials, keepsakes, or another type of urn. You will also take care of any bill for the cremation and any additional services at this time.
Veterinary Cremation Service handles all our common cremations. Since you will not receive any ashes back with this option, we do not give any personal information. When we call them, they will come and pick up your pet. When the cremation is done, the ashes will be taken to a nearby nature area and spread with those of other pets. If you select this option and wish to have a clipping of fur, we can help you with this before you leave.
Some people want their pet to be cremated with a few photos, a favorite toy, a special blanket, a rose or even a personal letter or poem from the pet owner to their pet. Just remember it is YOUR friend and YOUR pet that is passing away and you can do anything you wish to ease your transition into the time of separation from that friend.
Suggestion: You may want someone to be with you after the appointment to drive you home. You may be surprised how difficult it can be to concentrate on driving after such an emotional event as what you just experienced.
Many pet owners experience a very strong and lasting sense of pain and grief after the passing of their special pet. Part of their trouble may stem from not having human friends who actually understand the deep sense of grief they are experiencing. Even a close friend might say, “Oh, just go get another one” or “Gosh, it was only a cat.” This can be a very lonely and private grief since the pet owner often is reluctant to disclose the source of his or her saddened state for fear of ridicule. Also, it is very common for pet owners to think they see or hear their deceased companion in the home or out in the yard long after it is gone. If someone hasn’t personally experienced the loss of a beloved pet, they simply will be unable to connect with the pet owner who is grief stricken.
The bereaved pet owner often is self-critical, too. We would recognize self-chastisement when they think such things as “Oh, this is ridiculous feeling like this over a Cocker Spaniel” or “I can’t believe losing a cat would wreck my entire life!” And the loss of a pet often brings up memories of other losses in a person’s life and a vicious cycle of sadness, helplessness, and even clinical depression can result. Our pets are that important to us, and we don’t have to apologize for feeling that way.
Pet owners, if you feel you need to talk to someone who understands your sadness, have hope! There are a number of grief support groups and counselors who specialize in pet-loss counseling. Never feel ashamed or belittle yourself for having strong feelings of loss and sadness over a deceased pet. You are NOT alone in your sadness. There are numerous websites that may prove helpful and informative while you progress along the road to accepting the loss of your pet. Never feel ashamed for being lost and lonely after losing your best friend. And remember, it always takes longer than you would expect to start functioning “normally” again.
Local Grief Help
www.vet.ohio-state.edu OSU Pet Loss and Support (Jennifer Brandt) (614) 292-1823
Columbus Academy of Veterinary Medicine – Pet Loss Support Group (Dorothy Hall) (614) 882-9338
Websites with grief support
www.aplb.org The association for pet loss and bereavement
Websites for memorials: