Grief for the impending loss of your pet is complicated by the need to make difficult, often painful decisions. You may ask yourself how much treatment should you pursue? At what point will treatment cause more trauma than relief? Can you give the care needed to keep your pet comfortable? At what point, if any, should you consider euthanasia?
Sometimes circumstances don't give you time to ask such questions, an unexpected illness or injury might only give you minutes. Whenever possible, it is ideal to develop a plan taking into consideration three basic issues:
When should you consider euthanasia?
When your pet is ill, this may be the last question you want to think about, but it is an important question that needs consideration. Our vets can provide you with information on your pet's problem to help you form a plan. For example, you may decide to consider euthanasia when your pet is reluctant to eat or drink for a period of time, is in pain despite medication, or has difficulty urinating/defecating in a normal manner.
Few animals die peacefully in their sleep through old age. For many their problems are such that they would suffer pain and discomfort long before they would die of natural causes.
Euthanasia is often the only humane way forward; the aim for all of us is to make that process as peaceful and painless as possible.
We use an overdose of a barbiturate anaesthetic, so that the patient loses consciousness and then their heart will stop. Unfortunately once the heart has stopped you may well find that they make some reflex gasps and muscle twitches; they will usually empty their bladder and sometimes their bowels as their muscles relax. This is very distressing for you but they are unaware of all this and are not waking up: it is just the body’s reflexes.
There are several different ways of giving the drugs:
By an injection straight into a vein, usually in the fore leg. This is the quickest route but does necessitate your pet being restrained and the leg held firmly to raise the vein. This is much easier if we have a nurse to assist the vet. Very occasionally, particularly in cases where your pet struggles when injected or where the circulation is very poor, this can be more drawn out and may include a period of anaesthesia known as the “excitement phase” as the anaesthetic agent reaches the brain. This may result in your pet giving a cry which is inevitably very disturbing if you are not prepared for it. However it’s not a cry of pain: your pet is unaware of what is happening. The reflex will stop once more anaesthetic reaches the brain. We often put a catheter into the vein first to make sure that the drug goes straight into the circulation.
By sedating the animal first, allowing them to relax and go to sleep before giving them the barbiturate injection. This takes longer as we have to wait for the sedative to work and as the sedative will tend to slow down the circulation. It is also more expensive.
By injecting the barbiturate straight into the abdomen. The drug is gradually absorbed so your pet will gradually lose consciousness and then the heart and breathing will stop. This is painless apart from the initial needle through the skin, but the absorption of the drug is immensely variable so can seem to take an inordinate length of time. It is often used for cats, particularly those that hate being held for injections The advantage is that after the initial injection you can cuddle them until they pass away.
Do you wish to be there?
This is a very personal issue, there is no right or wrong and many feel that their pet's well-being is the most important aspect to consider. If you believe that your pet will more comfortable or secure in your presence, you will probably want to stay. However, if you believe that your own reaction and grief may upset the pet more than the process itself, you may prefer to stay away.
We can come to your home to put your pet to sleep: however the vets are usually busy operating or consulting and are unlikely to be able to come straight away and so this usually best done by making an appointment. It is particularly appropriate therefore, for the chronically deteriorating animal. Whether euthanasia is carried out at home or in the surgery you may wish to stay with your pet or say goodbye while they are still conscious & leave them with us. Again, there is no right or wrong decision here, but remember our pets are very good at reading us and they can get quite distressed by seeing how upset we are. Sometimes it is easier not to worry them by saying goodbye whilst they are still conscious.
What happens next?
The worst time to decide what to do with your pet's body is at the last minute; it is better to discuss the options in advance. We offer three alternatives.
- You may take your pet home for a private burial.
- We will arrange a private cremation for your pet with its ashes returned to you in a casket or ceramic pot.
- We can handle your pet's remains for you which involves a communal cremation and the scattering of ashes in a garden of remembrance near Newbury.
Our staff members are also pet owners and understand the bond between humans and animals and the difficulty of losing a much-loved pet. They will be available to talk to you about the euthanasia process before you come in for the final time with your pet, so that you understand what to expect.
Dealing with the death of a beloved pet is never easy, but sadly at some point it will be necessary. Unfortunately, just when you are trying to cope with your grief, we inevitably ask you to make decisions.
The purpose of this handout is to outline the options available so that you can think about what you want for your pet and yourself beforehand. There are no right or wrong decisions; it is simply what you feel comfortable with.
Burial or Cremation
The final decision to make is what to do with your pet’s body.
You may bury your own pet in your garden. If so you must ensure that your pet is deep enough not to be dug up, which means at least 3 feet below ground level. Also don’t bury them in a sealed plastic container or bag. A blanket or cardboard box is ideal. Try to keep away from ponds or water courses.
We use an animal crematorium at Newbury who routinely cremate all the animals together and then scatter some of the ashes on their large gardens of remembrance.
Alternatively, they will cremate your pet individually so that you can have their ashes back. These are normally returned in a terracotta pot, but can be returned in a wooden casket or an unsealed pot so that the ashes can be scattered more easily. Other pots are availabe at extra cost. Individual Cremation is much more expensive so do ask about the cost.
We do understand how heart-breaking this all is. There are no right or wrong decisions, however it is important to be comfortable with the choices you make. If you are going away, especially for extended periods, it is worth thinking about writing to us to put on record exactly what you would like to happen if there is a decision to be made whilst you are absent.
Please ask to speak to a nurse or vet if you have any questions: we are always happy to deal with any queries and can make the appropriate notes on your pet’s records if you would like us to.