How do you know when the time is right to euthanize your pet? This is something that I get asked quite a bit along with what is the process really like? I tend to adopt the old, broken animals so, I have had to make this decision more than I would like and although this is ultimately a personal decision based on the circumstances at the time, I can offer some insight in how I make the final decision and how I feel during the process.
For anyone that truly loves their pet, this will be the most difficult decision that you will have to make. The circumstances in which you will have to make the decision will always vary but will probably be the result of terminal illness where there is no cure and you don’t want to prolong the suffering, sudden life threatening injuries such as being hit by a car and the injuries are too grave for the animal to survive, old age, severe behavioral issues such as: aggression in dogs that is not able to be rehabilitated and euthanasia is recommended by a vet and/or professional trainer, are just some of the reasons. My experiences are only based on terminal illness and old age as I have not had to deal with severe aggression or sudden life threatening injuries.
The one very important lesson that I have learned over the years, is that I would rather be a day too early rather than 5 minutes too late when euthanizing a pet. I have learned this the hard way and when my heart is clouding my judgement during those hard moments of, “is this the right time or can it wait a few days”, I remind myself of this lesson and it quickly puts reality back into my mind and helps me make the decision. Being 5 minutes too late was unfair to my kitty friend and it made the euthanasia process difficult and it will always be ingrained in my mind wishing that I would have brought her in the day before.
I think that no matter what the circumstance you are in that is making you make this decision, most people feel as though they are killing their friend. Even when there is no doubt with it being the right decision, we all feel some sort of guilt in being the one that makes that final decision, signs the euthanasia order and gives the final ok to the vet. I don’t think that deep down inside, we as pet owners are ok with having the power to end the life of our friend.
I always find that making the final call to the vet to schedule the appointment is difficult but overtime, I have also come to learn that it is a way to prepare yourself for the next few days. I view it as a special time. I take a day or two off of work and I make the appointment for the next day and always for the last appointment of the day. I have called and hung up many times, I have called in tears, I have called blubbering and sobbing but it is ok, your vet clinic is used to all of this and is very understanding in how hard this is. Don’t be embarrassed at all.
When the appointment is finally made, I make the remaining hours as special as I can. Going to favorite places and doing lots of fun things with my friend. Sometimes they are quieter animals and we just spend the day cuddling and relaxing. I give them their favorite foods and buy them a special toy. They get lots of extra love and pets.
When I say that a planned euthanasia is a special time, it is a way to prepare yourself to say good-bye in your own way and in your own time but this sometimes is not an opportunity afforded to us. I have had a planned euthanasia and at 2 am, I have been on the phone to the vet because my pet’s health crashes quickly during the night and there is no time to wait and I am rushing to the vet in my pj’s with no make-up and I haven’t been able to say good-bye the way that I wanted. But that is just it, our heart takes over and it shouldn’t be about what we want but what is right and humane for our furry friend at the time.
After I have made the appointment and spend the final hours with my pet, I choose a special blanket to wrap them in and they ride on my front seat so that I can talk to them and hold their paw on the way to the clinic. It seems that no matter how slow I drive, the trip to the vet clinic goes by so fast. Where are you red lights when I need you? The drive is all but a blur as I cry all the way to the vet. As I walk into the vet clinic, they put me into an exam room right as soon as I walk in so that I don’t have to sit in the waiting room crying with everyone staring at me and my dying pet.
The vet tech comes in and I sign euthanasia order while tears drip onto the page smearing my newly inked signature. She asks if I need some time and I always say yes. They leave my friend and I to spend our final moments together in peace. This is when I wished that time would stand still and that I could take my friend home and that all would be ok.
We wait and I talk softly to my friend, telling them how much I love them and thank them for being my friend. Then I see the shadow of the vet’s shoes under the door and I hear her pull the file out from the holder on the wall. Time pauses as she is momentarily reads the file and then she turns the door knob and that is when panic and a sick feeling set in like a huge pit in my stomach. I know this is the last few moments I will have with my pet. The vet comes in with the vet tech and they put the tissue box beside me and I lay my friend on the exam table on the special blanket. They shave the paw with the clippers and the smell of rubbing alcohol fills the air as they clean the newly shaved area. All the while I am whispering in my pet’s ear that they will be ok, they will no longer be sick and that of course I love them. I tell them to run free and to have a safe trip over the Rainbow Bridge. The vet says are you ready? I breathe in deeply to try to clear the shear panic I feel. Every single time at that very moment, I wish that I had a magic wand that I could wave to make them better, to make them a kitten or puppy again, bounding around happy and free but I know that is not possible and I give a final nod to the vet and she sticks the needle in, injects the solution and within moments, it is over. I want to yell and say no wait just a few more minutes but the solution works so quickly that there is no turning back. Just like that your friend is gone and the vet will check to make sure there is no longer a heart beat. Your vet will let you know when your pet is gone. She or he will leave the room to allow you time to say your final good-byes.
I drive home with an empty blanket and I usually spend the week crying on and off. As odd as it may sound, and as sad as you feel, there is a feeling of relief in that you know deep down that it was time. You may feel it right away or you may not feel it for several days but there will come a time when you know that you did the right thing and you take some comfort in that feeling.
Sometimes I swear I catch a glimpse of my Ricki out of the corner of my eye. I had him for 19 years and I adopted him from a local shelter as a flea infested kitten. He was with me through everything from my 20’s and most of my 30’s, marriage, having a child, divorce and all the things in between. I have had many furry friends throughout my life and people ask me if it gets easier. I find this to be an odd question. Every animal is special and comes into your life at a certain time for a reason.
Last year, I adopted a 19 year old cat named Gus. I knew it was a palliative adoption and that his time with me would be short. I ended up only having him for 3 months but in those 3 months he took a big piece of my heart and although each one takes a piece of your heart, they deserve a second chance and as hard as it was to say good-bye to Gus and I wish everyday that I had more time with him, I am also thankful that he had a home that loved him for his final months and that he knew love, compassion, a full belly and vet care and that he didn’t have to die in a cold shelter all alone.
As hard as it is to say good-bye, it is at that moment when you need to put that aside and be the very best friend that you can be. Be with them and comfort them in their last moments. Be the last person they see and the last voice that they hear. Please don’t just drop them off at the vet clinic to be euthanized without being at their side. I personally cannot understand people that do this. The process is hard but it is peaceful.
Honestly, I am not sure that we ever really know when the time is right and that is what makes the decision so difficult but a few things that help me decide are:
1. Quality of Life: Is your pet still interested in eating and drinking and can they go to the bathroom on their own? If they no longer want to eat or drink, consult your veterinarian right away.
2. Do they have a terminal disease and are you only prolonging their life for a couple of weeks or months? This is a hard one but you need to ask yourself if you are just keeping them alive for your benefit? If there is no chance of recovery or cure for the disease, it is ultimately up to you if you want to see them suffer needlessly and you run the risk of being five minutes too late.
3. Old age: Everyone will have varying thoughts on this. For me this is when I whole heartedly believe in nature. If your pet is simply old but otherwise ok (they may be slow, partially sighted or blind, deaf and all of the other things that are associated with old age), I feel that letting them go naturally is ok as dying is part of the entire living process. They may die peacefully in their sleep, it may happen quickly or it has been my experience that the dying process can take place over a day. If you choose this decision, try not to be scared of the process. I will admit, it is not easy to watch and it can be scary but only because you know that you cannot help them at that point and the end is near. This is when YOU must be brave for your friend. Be comforting and help them feel safe. This process may be hard for some to watch but you have to follow it through to the end. At this point, you are more than five minutes too late and you need to deal with the the fear and the helplessness that you will feel. They may cry out, breathe heavy, want to be alone, they may be scared or confused but keep assuring them in a soft voice and they will know that you are by their side until the end.
If you have never been through the euthanasia process, don’t be afraid to ask your vet. They will sit down with you and go through all of the steps of the process so that you know what to expect. They will also ask if you would like your pet cremated or if you are planning on burying your pet. I always opt for private cremation and I get the ashes returned back to me in a pine box with a nice engraved plaque with their name. There are many options for urns or maybe you have a nice place under a favorite tree where you would like to bury your pet.
Saying good-bye is never easy but having the option of euthanasia to help end the suffering of a terminally or gravely ill pet is the most humane, caring decision that you can make. Trust in your decision. Take time to grieve the loss of your pet, it is ok.
Do you have a special furry friend that you have had to say good-bye to?
Always consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet’s health and well-being or have any questions about the euthanasia process.