The day none of us ever wants to think about…
Your cat or dog has been ill for some time now. Has it been days? Weeks? Months? The time starts to blur, and it’s difficult to tell when that downward decline started. It’s reaching the point where every action seems to be forced, like he or she is just going through the motions. It’s not “living” so much as “existing”. Barely eating, no longer playing, and sleeping mostly. This is when we start asking ourselves, “Is it time?” The harsh reality is that we generally outlive our pets, and often their fate falls to our hands. Euthanasia (putting a pet “to sleep”) is a sad subject to discuss, but since most of us will experience this with a pet at some time in our lives, I felt that it would be important to address.
When is it time?
This is a very personal question, and differs greatly with the pet, family, and health circumstances. The easy answer for me is, “When the bad starts to outweigh the good”. I have had some clients go through a mental exercise which is often useful in determining when to make this decision, and it is as follows: Make a checklist of the traits that make your dog or cat who they are. Is it the tail wag when you come home from work? The joy in devouring that Milk Bone that fell to the floor? Sunbathing in front of the living room window? If you find that a lot of these are being crossed off the list, it might give you insight into when “the right time” might be. We’ll do the best we can to help you with this decision, but bear in mind we’re viewing it from the medical side of things. You are better attuned to their emotional state and quality of life at home.
What can we expect?
If you think it might be “that time”, call us to schedule an appointment. We can generally get you in that day to be seen. Feel free to share the circumstances of your decision with our staff, but do not feel obligated to do so. Our policy is to see these appointments as soon as we have a doctor available, so you won’t have to endure an agonizing wait in the lobby. You’ll be taken into an exam room and we’ll explain the process and answer any questions you might have. Depending on the patient, we may ask permission to pre-place an IV catheter to ensure the injection goes smoothly. Euthanasia is then performed by injecting a single high dose of pentobarbital into a vein, essentially a very potent anesthesia. Your pet will experience nothing more than a needle prick followed by a rapid onset of sleepiness. Within seconds he or she will be unconscious, and within a minute or so the heart, lung, and brain function will have ceased. The eyes will generally remain open afterwards, and muscle spasms are not uncommon after passing. It is also common for pets to release their bowels and bladder after they have passed. At this point you’ll be invited to spend as much time as you need saying goodbyes in private. We work with a service that can then perform either burial or cremation, as you prefer.
Was it the right decision?
It is very common to experience doubts before, during, and after. If you have doubts, feel free to ask us. Not only have we endured this from the practitioner’s side of the exam table many times, but we are pet owners as well and have faced or will face this with our own pets. As long as the decision is made out of love and concern for your pet’s well-being, it can never be a wrong decision. From our standpoint, part of the oath we take as veterinarians is “the prevention and relief of animal suffering”. We’ll be sad right along with you during this visit, but the sadness is tempered by the knowledge that it truly is the best thing that can be done.
Regardless of your decisions or the circumstances, just remember we’re here to help.
Jeremy Blankenship, DVM
Stow Kent Animal Hospital