Euthanasia - What To Expect when the time comes
Euthanasia for your Pet. What to expect when the time comes to
put your cat to sleep.
Painless Death - Painful Decision
by Dr. T. J.
This copyrighted article is reprinted courtesy of
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- Loss of your Cat
veterinarian, I have noted with interest that during a single human
lifetime a number of pet lifetimes may pass, and as we recall each pet that shared
our time, it seems that they never stayed with us quite long enough.
You pick up that new kitten or puppy for the very first time.
Involuntarily and with no unconscious effort, the bond takes root.
Despite the thrill of acquiring a new pet, though, your imagination races
years ahead and uncomfortable, fleeting thoughts pass through your mind.
"I hope this little rascal lives a long time" is a typical thought.
Or you can't help hearing that inner voice whisper "I can't imagine
this cute little puppy as an old dog" or "Someday this little furry kitten
will be old and unhealthy". We always fear losing these pets that
mean so much to us. Nevertheless, that time inevitably does come.
And we pet owners simply have to face our pet's
mortality. I have often thought how wonderful it would have been if my
Golden Retrievers and wonderful feline friends would have had life
spans of sixty or seventy years!
Every individual pet owner faces that final day with a beloved pet
slightly differently from every other pet owner. I have seen totally
objective (and even outright callous) pet owners simply drop off their pet
for euthanasia with no more respect or empathy than a robot. I have never
been able to understand this type of pet owner who seems to be saying
"When you're dead, you're dead". They can still comfort or simply be with
their pet at the time of euthanasia; but for their own reasons they choose
to separate themselves from the final moments of their pet's life. Maybe
we humans are so close to our pets that we somehow project our own
humanity and mortality into them and we actually see ourselves at our own
last moments. Do some pet owners act out how they think they would view
their own passing?
the other hand I have witnessed seemingly strong, objective individuals
that seem to be somewhat cold and distant who completely fall apart at the
time of their pet's passing. The theme to keep in mind, then, as you
contemplate how YOU will act at your pet's final moments is to remember
that it is a completely personal experience. You have to
decide what is best for you and your pet.
I have had people actually say
to me "I am sorry, Doctor, but I don't know how to act right now". My
usual response is "Act like you. Your pet has been a huge part of your
life for a long time and this is not an easy thing for you to do."
Most people really have had no guidelines to follow, had no firm ground on
which to stand while partaking in their pet's final time. For those of you
who have had no experience with euthanasia of a pet, I would like to offer
a few guidelines so that you will have some firmer ground to stand on when
"that time" does come.
Making the appointment
Be sure to tell
the receptionist that you would like to schedule the appointment at a time
when the veterinarian is not in a hurry with other appointments or
surgery. You might even request that your appointment be the last one of
the day or the first one in the morning. Explain that you have never had
to go through this experience before and would like to know what to expect
have a right to take your deceased pet home for personal burial. You may
also choose to leave your deceased pet with the veterinarian for burial or
cremation. Always ask what will be done with your deceased pet after it is
"put to sleep"! If you don't, you will always wonder, and your
imagination will not be kind to you.
Let me dispel an ugly myth. I can't tell you how many concerned pet owners
have innocently asked me "You aren't going to experiment on her, are you?"
or "You aren't going to sell him to some lab are you?"
have never known of any veterinarian anywhere who sells deceased pets.
There are no labs that would even consider taking a deceased animal. And
as for experimentation, what kind of an "experiment " can a veterinarian
do in his practice on a deceased pet that would have any impact whatsoever
on veterinary science? It is a totally different matter for your
veterinarian to ask you respectfully if you would want an autopsy
performed for a specific reason. Veterinarians do not sell
deceased pets and veterinarians do not do experiments on
deceased pets. So you can rest assured on these matters. But you certainly
have a right to know what will be done with your dog or cat if you choose
to leave it with the veterinarian. Do not be apologetic about asking.
IN HOME EUTHANASIA
owners want their pet's last moments to be as comfortable as
possible and as stress free for themselves and their pet as the
situation can be. The natural question is "Can the
veterinarian come to our home to administer the euthanasia
solution?" The answer is Yes. However, there are a
number of things for you to consider.
What will you do with your pet after euthanasia?
Second: Will your pet require restraint so
that the needle can be carefully placed into a vein? In the
animal hospital, the staff is trained in gentle restraint procedures
which allows for proper administration of the euthanasia solution.
Third: The veterinarian will most likely have to
schedule the home visit after regular office hours. Are you
willing to pay for an after-hours in-home visit?
Fourth: Do you understand that often, as the
pet is euthanized, there will be an emptying of the bowels and
bladder? In an animal hospital setting this is not a problem.
Fifth: Understand that in the animal hospital most
animals are willing to accept that they are not in their own
territory and they become less defensive than they would be in their
own home. This realization by the pet actually allows for easier
handling of the pet in the hospital than the same handling as taking
place in the pet's home.
Sixth: Are you willing to have your pet
sedated prior to attempts to place the needle for euthanasia?
Sometimes the process goes much more smoothly if sedation is given
prior to the visit. Sedation is a good topic to discuss with
your veterinarian to lessen any stress on your pet prior to an
in-hospital or in-home procedure.
are veterinarians who have made it a policy never to euthanize a pet
outside of the animal hospital setting. They have some
very good reasons for this policy. However, if you must have
your pet euthanized at home, don't be reluctant to make some phone
calls and you will be able to find a veterinarian who will
accommodate your wishes.
The Appointment... To Be
There or Not To Be There
It is your personal
choice whether or not to be present in the exam or surgery room when the
veterinarian administers the euthanasia solution. Many people simply
cannot bear to see the moment of their special friend's passing. Others
wouldn't let a tidal wave interfere with their being present! It
really is up to your personal preference. Some people choose to stay in
the waiting room during the procedure and then briefly view their pet
after it has passed away, maybe then spending a few moments in private
with their pet.
you are not sure just what to do I will offer an observation I have made
from feedback from my clients. There are a multitude of pet
owners who have regretted NOT being there with their pet when the pet was
being euthanized, and their feelings that they may have abandoned their
pet at a crucial time has created a certain sense of guilt that simply
will not go away. So... think over very carefully how you will feel
long after your pet has been "put to sleep". Will you have regrets
if you do not stay with your pet?
one is comfortable with death, especially your veterinarian and animal
hospital staff who face death every day. Your discomfort with the event
should not govern your decision whether or not to be present with your pet
at the time of its passing. Many apprehensive clients, with a slightly
surprised look, have queried after the event "Is that it? That was very
quick and peaceful. Thank you, Doctor".
Let me be very clear about something... it is perfectly normal and
acceptable to cry. I have often wondered why some people don't cry.
This can be a very sad time and even though the animal hospital staff
might have to go through this all too often, there really is no getting
used to euthanizing a dog or cat. The animal hospital staff has often
formed a strong connection with many of the pets in their care and often
join in the crying; so you really have no need to pretend that you can
handle it when inside you feel terrible.
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. As a veterinarian I
have never been comfortable seeing a client sitting patiently in the
waiting room with their pet for that final appointment. It is perfectly
reasonable to ask the receptionist to let you know when the doctor is
ready to see your pet... then bring your pet directly into the exam room.
You should not have to be isolated in the exam room for a long period of
you think your pet would be more comfortable and less apprehensive (not
all pets relish coming to the animal hospital!) you may ask the
veterinarian to provide your pet with some sedation prior to your visit.
This can be administered at home at a directed time interval prior to the
appointment or often sedation is given in the animal hospital via a
painless injection under the pet's skin. After a short time the pet is
relaxed and calm.
order to administer the euthanasia solution* your veterinarian must gain
entry into a vein. The solution is specially made to act quickly and
painlessly but it must be administered intravenously. This requires that
your pet be calm and confident. If the veterinarian requests your
permission to sedate your pet, please understand that the request is made
in order to humanely and peacefully accomplish the task at hand. If your
pet is uncooperative, defensive, afraid or even fractious, your
veterinarian and you will not be able to properly carry out the procedure.
* Most euthanasia solutions
are a combination of chemicals whose intent is to effect a quick and
painless termination of nerve transmission and to effect complete muscle
relaxation. When nerve impulses are not conducted there is no thought, no
sensation, no movement. The solution is available only to licensed
veterinarians and your veterinarian must possess a special certificate in
order to purchase the solution.
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The Last Moments
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. When it is certain
that the needle is within the vein the veterinarian slowly injects the
solution. Many pet owners choose to help hold their pet and if possible
even have the pet in their arms at the time of euthanasia. Your
veterinarian will try to accommodate your wishes, but remember that it is
imperative that the solution be injected within the vein for the procedure
to unfold properly.
Usually within six to twelve seconds after the solution is injected the
pet will take a slightly deeper breath, then grow weak and finally lapse
into what looks like a deep sleep. (This state gives rise to the
questionable euphemism "to put to sleep".) The pet, although completely
unconscious, may continue to take a few more breaths before all movement
ceases. I have found that the older and sicker the pet the longer this
unconscious breathing state goes on.
Some pet owners will be more comfortable if they do not observe the pet's
final moments and would rather be in the waiting
room during the injection. Then when their pet has passed away, the
owner may wish to be with their pet privately for a few moments.
If you do chose to visit with your pet after it has been euthanized, ask
your veterinarian to be sure your pet's eyelids are closed; some pet
owners have been saddened even further by looking into their deceased
is at this point when the veterinarian has completed the procedure where
great empathy and support for the pet owner is very important. I generally
ask the owner if they would like to spend a few moments alone with
the pet. Some people do and some people do not. If the client chooses to
take the pet home, by pre-arrangement a container is at the ready to
receive the pet.
The veterinarian usually will place the pet into the container and carry
the deceased pet out to the car for the owner. If the pet owner chooses to
have the pet cremated the veterinarian generally will make the
arrangements through a cremation service and notify you when you can
expect to have the ashes returned. Generally, pet owners are surprised at
the small quantity of ashes that are returned. Remember, most living
creatures are about 95% water.
is perfectly reasonable to ask "How do I know that the ashes that I
receive will actually be those of my pet?" Everyone wonders about that.
Your veterinarian should be willing to provide you with the name and phone
number of the cremation service. Don't be afraid to call up the cremation
service and tell them your concerns about your pet. You should get
courteous and respectful answers to all your questions and if you don't,
let your veterinarian know. In fact it would be a good idea to call the
cremation service long before that final day so that the last moments with
your pet are as unstressful as possible.
is not unusual nor unreasonable for pet owners to save a bit of their
pet's fur as a physical remembrance of their special friend. Some people
want their pet to be buried or cremated with a few photos, or a rose or
even a personal letter or poem from the pet owner to their pet. Just
remember it is YOUR friend, YOUR pet, that is passing away and you can do
anything you wish to ease your transition into the time of separation from
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
Coping with Grief: Living with the
Loss of your Cat
Many, many pet
owners experience a very strong and lasting sense of pain and grief after
the passing of a special pet. Part of
their trouble stems from having so few 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 their saddened state for fear
of ridicule. Plus it is very common for the pet owner to think they see or
hear their deceased pet in the home or out in the yard long after it is
gone. If someone hasn't personally experienced the loss of a loved pet
they simply will be unable to connect with the pet owner who is grief
The bereaved pet owner often is self-critical, too. Reading their thoughts
we would recognize self chastisement such as "Oh, this is ridiculous
feeling like this over a Cocker Spaniel" or "I can't believe loosing 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
Those pet owners who feel they need to talk to someone who understands
their 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 web sites
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 little friend. And remember, it
always takes longer than you would expect to start functioning "normally"
again. As well, your state's Veterinary Medical Association (ask your
veterinarian for the phone number) will direct you to a nearby pet loss
T. J. Dunn,
I'd like to share an email
I recently received. You can read it just as I received it; I made
no changes. My response follows the question about the dilemma of
euthanizing a family dog. Some of the family think it is "time" and
others do not:
Dear Dr. Dunn,
I have a 7 1/2 year old cocker spaniel
which was diagnosed with the canine equivalent of "non
Hodgkins lymphoma" in March. She has been on 20 mg of
Prednisone for the last couple of months. She has difficulty
walking, breathes very heavily, drinking a lot of water, cannot lie
still, and in the last few days has developed cloudiness in her left
eye with a small circle near the center. My father does not feel she
is suffering as long as she can "eat and go to the bathroom." He
also feels that if she hurt she would cry - although our vet has
remarked in the past (to my father) what a tough dog she is and that
she isn't a cryer. My mother and I cannot afford the
treatments especially as we wish to have her privately cremated so
that we can provide her a memorial at home. Please give us some
signs to look for to show whether the dog is suffering so that maybe
he will be convinced it is time to put her out of her pain. Thank
Thanks for contacting
My opinion based upon close observation of
sick dogs and cats is that they seldom exhibit pain even though they
may be terribly uncomfortable and unhappy. What you are describing
to me is a dog that seems to have lost a certain quality of life.
Should you keep any pet alive just because there is no pain even
though that pet is unable to do the things a dog would naturally do?
The disease your dog has is probably incurable
and will gradually get worse. That may mean today your dog feels as
good as it ever will; each day will hold less comfort, less
playfulness, less ability to function like a dog should. If the dog
is having more "bad" days than "good" days, and you are able to stop
the poor dog's discomfort in a painless and respectful manner, why
not allow the dog to pass away peacefully?
It is a tough call and everyone has an
individual way of handling this crisis. Try to be certain today that
no one in the future is sorry for NOT doing something they should
have. Likewise, regretting having put a dog to sleep when there may
have been "some life" left can weigh very heavy on one's mind many
years later. The thought that "I gave up on him" can be haunting.
Talk it out with everyone concerned.
Ask the dog, too. This may sound silly but
each individual should spend time alone with the dog in a quiet and
private location. Hold and comfort the dog in your arms and talk it
over... just the two of you. Then, if you listen to your heart, the
answers can become very clear.
I hope this helps.
T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM