Once the decision is made to euthanize a pet, it is important that you know what is involved in the procedure so that you can be prepared for what is about to happen and feel confident that all of your wishes are being fulfilled.
At Animal Cancer & Imaging Center, we try to make the procedure as comfortable as possible for you and your pet under the circumstances. Taking away the unknown through knowledge of the procedure helps you fully focus your attention on your pet. If your pet is euthanized at another hospital, our hope is that this information will help you know what questions to ask and know about things that you have a right to ask for.
It is vitally important that your concerns and wishes are honored at this time. Dr. Sally Walshaw is the founding member of the grief support program at Michigan State University and has helped us put together a list of things to remember or consider when faced with euthanasia. Bring another member of the family or a friend so that you don’t have to drive home alone. The veterinarian performing the euthanasia should inform you of the exact procedure and what steps they take to insure the comfort of your pet. It is customary for veterinarians to request your signature on a document giving them permission to perform the procedure.
Make any decisions regarding arrangements such as burial or cremation before the procedure is done. At times, it may be desirable to perform necropsies on pets that have died. Necropsies (post-mortem examinations) are never performed or considered without your permission. In patients euthanized without a definitive diagnosis, learning what happened through a necropsy can give comfort in knowing that the euthanasia decision was the correct one and helps make it easier to accept. The knowledge that information gained may ultimately help another pet or human with the same disease gives great comfort for many pet owners.
The euthanasia should be performed in a quiet room separate from the hospital activity. In nicer weather, the euthanasia can even be performed outdoors if you request. You should be allowed to spend as much time as you need in order to say good-bye before the procedure is performed. Euthanasia, unless under a dire acute emergency, should be performed in a way that you do not feel rushed. You have the right to be with your pet when the euthanasia injection is given. Most pet owners prefer to be with their pets at this time, but some are not able. This is a personal decision, but we do encourage you to remain with your pet.
Pet owners will often have guilt associated with feelings of abandonment that can last for years(Lagoni, et al. The Human-Animal Bond and Grief). It is OK to talk to your animal during the procedure. Don’t be embarrassed or think that others will think it strange. These are the last few moments of your pet’s life and he/she deserves to hear your voice for comfort and knowing that your voice was the last heard will give you comfort as well.
Understand the medication protocol that your veterinarian uses and ask questions. It is usually easier on the pet to receive some form of sedation prior to the actual injection. Most people don’t realize that the euthanasia injection, typically an over dosage of a barbiturate like drug, works very quickly, in a matter of seconds. Humane death by euthanasia is painless and peaceful. However, your pet may urinate, defecate, twitch, or even sigh a bit. These are natural occurrences and your pet will not be aware of any of this and will not feel any kind of pain.
You should be allowed to spend as much time as you need with your pet following his/her death. Without viewing a body, it is often difficult to accept the reality of the loss or allow the grieving process to begin. Remember that you do not get over grief, you integrate it. You are changed forever. You do not return to an old normal, but to a new normal. Grief is painful. However, experiencing grief after a significant loss is essential to the ultimate quality of one’s life.