By: Misa Nash & Alex Rhodes
It is inevitable that our favorite furry family members will leave us. Whether it is a sudden loss or the decision to euthanize, it is completely normal to experience a grieving process. The loss of a pet can be an overwhelming experience, much like the loss of a human family member. Communicating with your veterinarian about your thoughts and concerns in regards to your pets’ quality of life can be very informational. How to make the decision and what to expect is important knowledge for such an impactful time in your life.
The most common question veterinary staff receives in regards to an elderly pet is, “When do I know it’s time?” The answer to this can be very complicated. The decision could be based on guidance and information from your veterinarian; although as a pet owner, you know your pet best. Has their activity decreased, appetite become suppressed, or do they seem to be in pain? If your pet’s quality of life is seriously impaired by a disease or injury, can it be treated? If treatment is an option, is your family capable of handling the treatment? Although we may want the best treatment for our pets, it may not always be affordable or feasible. Finally, the question that holds the most weight, “Is your pet having more bad days than good days?” After discussing the health of your pet with your veterinarian, if the answers to your questions lead you to believe euthanasia is an option, it is time to schedule an appointment.
Preparing for this appointment is important for your mental health. Giving yourself time to say goodbye to your pet may be ideal for you and your family. Having a last night filled with favorite activities and snacks can be the perfect celebration of life for your furry family member. When the time comes for the appointment, you may be asked by veterinary staff how you’d like to handle the remains. This may come across as harsh, but making this decision before can be less emotional. Many veterinary clinics give you the option for cremation, as well as the option to take your pet home. Speaking to your veterinary staff about these options can help prepare you for your visit.
When you come for your visit, it is ok to be sorrowful. Often times, veterinary staff may cry or grieve with owners. You may choose to stay with the pet during the euthanasia process or say your goodbye and leave before the procedure. This decision is very personal and you, alone, should decide what’s best for you and your family. If you choose to stay, your veterinary staff may administer a tranquilizer to help your pet relax. The euthanasia will be given by injection. After the injection, your pet will become deeply and irreversibly unconscious as it stops all brain function. It is not uncommon for your pet’s body to experience muscle spasms after they have passed. This is normal and does not mean that your pet is in pain. This is never an easy decision, but can be possibly the kindest thing you can do for a pet that is in pain or chronically ill.
After your pet is gone, it is normal to feel many different emotions. It is important to remember you are not alone. A study of 106 participants showed that 1 out of 5 experienced significant features of grief lasting six months or longer. There is no proper way to grieve. The grief may be instant or delayed. Make sure you are honest about your emotions with either family and friends or other pet owners that have experienced loss. If the grief becomes overwhelming, please contact someone you trust.
Nothing can fully prepare you for the loss of your pet. Communication throughout this process is the best practice. Using your veterinarian’s knowledge and guidance, you will have the tools to make this difficult decision. You are not alone in this process. Friends, family and veterinary staff will help you every step of the way.