Planning for the end-of-life
Euthanasia may be considered when veterinary medical care and your own pet caregiving can no longer make a difference in your pet’s quality of life. Many pet caregivers see euthanasia as a humane way to stop a pet’s suffering, and it is without a doubt the single most difficult decision a pet caregiver will ever make.
For others, saying goodbye to a beloved pet naturally, without human intervention, is the choice that is made.
If you are considering euthanasia, Day By Day suggests that you make a thoughtful and educated decision. Here are some things to ask your veterinarian:
- What will the euthanasia procedure entail? Ask your veterinarian to provide you with a complete explanation of the procedure.
- If the choice is made to euthanize, where will it be done? In the past, euthanasia was only performed in a veterinary office; now pet caregivers have a choice of where euthanasia can occur. It can be done at home, with the assistance of a mobile veterinarian, or as traditionally the case, inside a veterinary clinic.
- Before you make any decision about how to handle euthanasia of a pet, consider the feelings, beliefs, and needs of all family members.
The emotions of euthanasia
Pet caregivers experience many emotions before, during, and after euthanasia, but the one emotion that most often reins supreme is guilt. No matter how certain you may be that what you are doing is best for the pet, you may still wonder if you should have waited longer or tried harder. This is natural due to the profound sense of responsibility you feel toward your pet.
The more you educate yourself about euthanasia ahead of time, the less likely you may be to question the decision afterward, wondering what you could of or should have done differently. Once you make the decision to euthanize, it is important to give yourself time to deal with your emotions. Before the final moments, think about how you would like to say goodbye. Many pet parents feel they need to hold their pet and say farewell during the euthanasia procedure, despite the emotional strain they may feel.
Guilt keeps us focused on what could have or should have been done, instead of what is. Understanding the feelings you’re going through and finding ways to move through the pain with the support of friends and loved ones can help. You will need to take special care of yourself as you experience the waves of different emotions, as the decision to euthanize a pet is the hardest decision any pet parent has to make.
Questions to ask yourself and your family
- Who will be there?
- Where will the euthanasia occur? At your home, at a veterinary hospital, outside, under a favorite tree?
- Which veterinarian will assist?
- What are your wishes for the care of your pet’s body? Some options may include private or group cremation, burial at a cemetery or at home, or having your veterinary clinic care for the body.
- Would you like to have a necropsy, the animal version of an autopsy, performed? This can sometimes provide answers to questions you have about your pet’s illness or injury.
- How would you like to say goodbye and memorialize your pet? This is key in helping you grieve, especially for children. Some people will hold a memorial service, read a poem, plant a tree, or write a story of their pet’s life. Perhaps you would like to make a clay or ink imprint of your pet’s paw or cut a clipping of hair to save. These can be placed in a special display box as a memorial.
- Involving children in decision-making discussions can help them to express their wishes and encourage them to discuss their feelings.
A natural death
Many pet caregivers envision that a sick or aging pet will one day close their eyes and die peacefully in its sleep, when in fact,a natural death may be prolonged and upsetting to witness. However, there are some things you can do to assist in a natural death, with pet hospice and palliative care.
Some people believe that every animal has the right to choose his or her own time for dying, but pets can be stoic in their life-preserving instinct and hide their pain and suffering. When a pet actually shows pain and discomfort, it might be more severe than we could imagine. It can sometimes be hard to determine how much pain a pet is experiencing.
As a pet caregiver, you may be willing to do as much as you possibly can to ensure quality of life for your pet until the very end. Letting a pet “choose” his or her own time for dying may be an option for those who would rather not choose euthanasia and have to decide when is the right moment to let their pet go.
When you have given your pet unconditional love during his or her lifetime, saying goodbye at the end can be so very heartbreaking. Knowing that you did everything you could to give your pet the opportunity to live a happy and health life, and to die with dignity is vital.
Death is part of life, and watching a beloved pet die is difficult, no matter which route you chose. Be kind to yourself for the decisions you made in the final journey, and look to Day By Day to educate and support you along every step of the way.
You are not alone.