Mother Nature versus Domestication
When animals became domesticated, they gave up their ability to separate from their pack when it is their time to die. Wild animals in decline will fall behind and become prey or they separate themselves from their family. Mother Nature’s often quick hand through the elements and her laws of predation, cause a weak animal’s life to end quickly. There is rarely a prolonged, lingering phase at the end of life for animals in natural habitats. When we domesticated animals, we took up the responsibility of the good shepherd. It is our duty to help separate our terminally ill pets when their quality of life declines to a low level or if they begin to suffer. When our pet’s lives are no longer worth living for them, it is our responsibility to help them depart with a compassionate, pain-free, quality death. Waiting for your pet to die at home is not fair. As the good shepherd, we must keep the ancient contract, and separate our beloved pet from the pack by providing them with the gift of a loving euthanasia.
How will I know when it is time?
Knowing when euthanasia should be considered depends on your pet’s health and quality of life. It is often helpful to look at the quality of life your pet is experiencing. Does your pet still enjoy eating and other simple pleasures? Is your pet able to respond to you in a normal way? Is your pet experiencing more pain than pleasure? It may be helpful if you ask yourself what is a good day and what is a bad day for your pet. Then over next month mark the good and bad days on a calendar. If the bad days out number the good days it is likely the time to have a discussion with a veterinarian. You will be able to make a much better decision, and be more comfortable in your decision if you get as much information as possible regarding your pet’s condition. If your pet is sick, ask about the treatment options, possible outcomes, and chances of recovery. In most instances, you will not need to make the decision immediately, so take the time to think about what you should do.
Discuss the decision with all of the other family members, including any children. Although it is a human tendency to question our decisions afterward, if you know you made informed decisions it will reduce the ‘what ifs’ you may tend to ask yourself. As hard as it is, you need to consider the financial cost as well as the emotional cost of continuing to care for your pet. Do not feel guilty if you cannot afford expensive treatment; there are many people who cannot. It does not make you a ‘bad’ owner or one who loves their pet any less. You need to consider what is best for your pet, but also what is best for you and your family. Are you physically able to manage your pet’s care? Do you feel ready to say goodbye, or do you need some more time? What will make it possible for you to feel comfortable regarding the decision?
What happens during euthanasia?
Euthanasia is a peaceful and virtually pain-free process, but it is best to understand what will occur and how your pet’s body may react. Knowing these things may help you make your decision regarding euthanasia, and make the process less traumatic for you.
To perform the euthanasia, your pet will first be given a sedative injected under the skin. This sedation may take 20 to 40 minutes to take effect. Once your pet is very calm and relaxed the final injection of a concentrated solution of pentobarbital, will be injected into a vein. In most cases, the injection works very rapidly usually within 5 seconds. At first, your pet will go unconscious as if your pet is being sedated for surgery. The high dose of pentobarbital will cause the brain and heart to stop functioning. In some instances, the time between the injection and the death of the pet may be slightly longer. This is especially true if the pet has poor circulation. We may see the pet’s muscles relax or contract after the pet has died. This can be very upsetting if you are not aware of this possibility ahead of time. Involuntary muscle contractions may result in a pet appearing to gasp, or move a leg. The muscles of the urinary bladder and the anus may relax, and your pet may void urine and stool. Again, remember your pet is not aware of these things happening since they happen after death. In almost all cases, the pet’s eyes will not close after death. Knowing what happens during euthanasia may help you and other family members decide if they want to be present.
Who should be present during euthanasia?
Many people wish to be present during their pet’s euthanasia to say goodbye, to prevent feeling guilty for ‘abandoning’ their pet, and to know what the death was like so they will not wonder about it in the future. Each individual, however, will need to decide for him or herself whether they want to be present during the euthanasia. Sometimes friends may encourage you one way or another, but it is ultimately your decision, and you need to do what is best for you.
If you do not feel you can be present during the euthanasia, please do not feel you are abandoning your pet. Your pet has experienced your love throughout his life, and if he could talk, you can imagine he would say he understands. Your pet will not be alone, the veterinarian and staff will be there with your pet, talking to him and petting him during the procedure. Whether children should be present during the euthanasia depends on the age and maturity of the child, as well as other factors. Many experts feel it is best if children under the age of 8 are not present during the procedure, but can see and say goodbye to the pet before and after the euthanasia. If a child is to be present, it is vital that the child be counseled ahead of time so he or she knows what to expect. It is also helpful if the veterinarian or staff can talk with the child and explain what will happen and why. Parents need to be ready to provide support and answer any question the child may have.
People say good-bye to their pet in many ways, and at different times during the euthanasia. You may:
· Say goodbye before your pet enters the euthanasia quiet room. Accompany your pet into the room, say goodbye prior to the euthanasia, and then leave before the euthanasia is performed. · Say goodbye in the exam room prior to the euthanasia, leave, and then return to the exam room after the euthanasia to say your final goodbye. · Be present at the euthanasia and say good-bye during the procedure. Again, in many cases, the individual family members may wish to have some time alone with the pet both before and/or after the euthanasia to say their personal goodbyes.
Many people wish to take something back home with them to remind them of their pet. It may be a lock of hair, a whisker, a clay imprint of the pet’s paw, or the pet’s collar or name tag. It may also be helpful to plant a tree in honour of your pet or even make a donation to a charitable organization in your pet’s name.
Options for your pet’s aftercare
You will need to make a decision as to how you want to care for your pet’s body. Depending on where you live, your finances, and other factors, there may be several alternatives for you. We use PetsAbove as our aftercare provider. PetsAbove provides services including communal and individual cremations, viewing and visitation facilities, and a variety of memorial products.
Individual Cremation: There are many reasons to choose individual cremation as a meaningful way to memorialize your pet. With individual cremation, your pet’s cremated remains are returned to you as a lasting, cherished keepsake. When you choose individual cremation you have the assurance that you are receiving your pet’s, and only your pet’s, cremated remains for safe keeping. Communal cremation: Sometimes simply saying goodbye is the last memory you want of your pet. In a communal cremation, your pet is gently placed in the crematorium together with other pets. Upon the completion of the cremation, the communally cremated remains are removed and forwarded to the peaceful surroundings at Ancaster Pet Cemetery for internment in a communal burial plot. The communal plots are identified with a special marker. It is important to understand that with this service, no cremated remains are returned to you. If you do choose communal cremation, you may want to consider keeping a lasting memory of your pet with a personalized memorial paw print. Burial at home: If it is allowed where you live (check your zoning restrictions), you may be able to bury your pet at home. Many people prefer this, but you should consider the fact you may move to a different home in the future. If you will be burying your pet, you will need to make arrangements regarding how you are going to transport your pet from the veterinarian’s office to the burial site.
In some instances, it may be important for you and your veterinarian to know how your pet died. If the death was due to an infectious disease, prevention measures may need to be taken with your other pets or animals or people who may have had contact with your pet. People may want to know if their pet died of a congenital or hereditary problem, and breeders certainly would want to know this information. Knowing what caused the death of a pet may help the owner recover from the loss and relieve uncertainty.
Caring for yourself afterward
You will need to take special care of yourself in the time immediately after the euthanasia. It will be best if you can have someone else drive you home and share the rest of the day with you. It is helpful to have plans for the rest of the day: a hike with your friend, dinner with someone who understands your grief, or putting a puzzle together with a friend. Understanding the grieving process and having various resources available such as pet loss hotlines and books on pet loss can also be beneficial.
Pet Loss Support Resources: Click Here
You will need to decide with whom you will share your pet’s death. You certainly need to share it with someone who understands and will support you. You may, however, know people who will not understand your grief. It may be best to refrain from sharing with these people until you feel more ready.