A Guide for the Consideration of Euthanasia

The Decision for Euthanasia

The decision regarding the euthanasia of a beloved pet may be one of the most difficult that we can be faced with. It is a decision that we want to be able to look back upon and know that the best course was chosen for both you and your companion. We have developed this guide to help you with this difficult step.

When considering the step of euthanasia, there are several criteria used in evaluation of life quality. You should consider them carefully to help you see your pet’s condition more clearly:

  • Is your pet still eating? Quality of life often involves eating and maintenance of interest in food. Appetite can often reflect general comfort level in most pets. There are those patients however that we cannot rely on appetite loss to help us as some dogs in particular will eat well in the face of significant discomfort or distress.
  • Is your pet generally comfortable? Your friend should be free of debilitating pain or distress. Certain types of health problems can be particularly distressful: inadequate oxygen levels (heart failure, severe anemia, fluid in the chest cavity), bone pain (primary bone cancer or metastatic bone cancer) and severe nausea are examples.
  • Does your pet still enjoy favorite activities? The elderly pet does not necessarily need to continue chasing balls or jumping after frisbees but he or she should enjoy sleeping comfortably, hanging around with the family and taking little “tours” of the neighborhood or favorite park (if that was part of the routine before). Withdrawal from the company of family and inability to enjoy even limited activity is a strong indication of loss of quality of life.
  • Do the good days outnumber the bad days (or the good hours in a day outnumber the bad hours)? It is important to look honestly at the balance of good and bad times for your friend. A limited amount of better time may not outweigh long periods of discomfort, distress or general loss of activity.
  • If your pet has a progressive problem, how much worse does he/she need to be before you are able to let go? This can be a painful question to ask, but does force us to realize that we may be avoiding making a decision at the expense of our pet’s comfort and dignity.

As your veterinarians, we are always willing to discuss any of these questions with you and to help you clarify your feelings about the decision to proceed with euthanasia. We appreciate how heart wrenching it can be to consider the loss of your pet and want to support you in any way that we can.

Planning for the Euthanasia

Once you realize the time for your pet’s euthanasia is near, it is helpful to do as much planning and preparation ahead of time as possible. The purpose of this list is to make you aware of the many choices you have about your pet’s death. Please discuss any decisions you are uncertain about with your veterinarian.

When preparing for your pet’s euthanasia, the following factors should be considered:

  • Decide whether or not to be present during your pet’s euthanasia. This is a very personal decision. We support our clients’ desire to be present for the procedure, as most feel that they want their pet to be with a loved one at the end. If you feel that you are not able to stay, we will do everything possible to ease the way for your friend.
  • Decide who else (if anyone) you would like to have present during the euthanasia. If you wish to be alone during the procedure, you may still want to ask a friend or family member to accompany you to the appointment so you will have support before and afterward.
  • If you have children, should they be present? The ages of the children and the relationship to the pet should be considered. We have a separate handout with more information for you about this.
  • Plan the logistical details of your pet’s euthanasia.
    • When should it take place?
    • Where should it take place?
    • How will you care for your pet’s body?
    • What will you transport/bury your pet’s body in if you take the body with you?

What to Expect When You Come In

What can you expect when your pet comes in for euthanasia? At Aztec, we do our best to minimize the stress of this visit. We provide a separate space to meet with you, not in our standard exam rooms, where we can have more privacy and quiet. Depending on the condition of your pet, we may decide to place a small intravenous catheter. This allows us to give the injections with minimal restraint or stress and gives us comfort that we will have continuous access to a vein. After the catheter is placed, you may spend some time alone with your pet if desired.

When ready, we will proceed with the euthanasia. At times, a sedative may be given first, especially if there is any agitation or distress sensed from your pet. The euthanasia is then performed by giving a concentrated solution of an anesthetic agent, pentobarbital, through the catheter. Your pet will immediately lose consciousness, then will quickly slip away. We will carefully listen to the heart to confirm that he/she is gone. In some cases, a pet may evacuate the bladder or bowel or may occasionally have minor muscle contractions. Rarely, we will see contraction of the diaphragm, which can look like a breath, after we have confirmed that your pet has passed away. This can be a bit alarming unless you know what you are seeing. Finally, our patients often do not close their eyes as they expire. If you have any questions about what you may experience, do not hesitate to ask us before we proceed.

Once the procedure has been completed, you may want to spend some time with your friend before leaving. This is always an option and you are welcome to stay for as long as you need to say goodbye. Some of our clients choose to take the collar or harness, or may want us to clip a bit of their pet’s hair for them to take with them. We also offer to make an imprint of one of the paws for a memento. Please let us know if you would like any of these options.

In summary, the decision to take the step of euthanasia is often difficult but unselfish. We hope that this guide has made the process more clear or has answered any questions that you may have had. Feel free to discuss any further concerns or questions with us at the clinic.

We would like to acknowledge the Argus Institute at Colorado State University for some of the information contained in this handout. There are several helpful links on their website for assistance in issues of pet loss, grief and the human-pet bond.

If I Should Grow Frail

If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain does keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done
For this, the last battle, can’t be won.

You will be sad I understand
But don’t let grief then stay your hand.
For on this day, more than the rest
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so
When the time comes, please, let me go.

Take me to where my needs they’ll tend,
Then stay with me until the end.
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.

Don’t grieve that it must now be you
Who had to decide this thing to do.
We’ve been so close, we two, these years
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

~ Author Unknown