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What to Expect: Euthanasia

Updated: Apr 23

Its the hardest part of having a pet. Euthanizing is a heartbreaking decision, but is often the right choice to make. When it is the right decision for your pet, for whatever the circumstances may be, it can be a confusing time. We are hoping to alleviate some of that confusion, in hopes of helping you and your pet through the process.

The best case scenario is often that a beloved pet has simply lived with us for so long that age has caught up with them. In even more unfair circumstances, a younger pet may need to be released from an incurable ailment or unfixable injury. Both are hard, and can feel like impossible choices to make. We often help guide clients by trying to get them to focus on one aspect; quality of life. If the quality of life has diminished, or is about to quickly diminish due to a sudden injury or development, then it may be time. For example, if an elderly pet can no longer evacuate their bowels appropriately, and they are in consistent pain associated with aging that isn't being sufficiently relieved with medications, and they will only occasionally accept food, it is probably time.

Upon making the decision, you will need to contact your primary care veterinarian to set up an appointment. They will help you access when would be the best day and time, and can walk you through anything about the process that may be specific to their veterinary practice. If at all possible it is best to call ahead of time for an appointment rather than showing up unannounced to euthanize your pet. This allows hospital staff to be as prepared as possible, which will then make the process less stressful for both you and your pet.

Here at Windsor Animal Hospital we work patiently with our clients to determine the best day for them and their pet for the euthanasia appointment. Once we determine the most suitable day, we focus on trying to access the situation to determine the most suitable time. Many practices, including ours, can be quite hectic at various points throughout the day with routine appointments and clients picking up medications. I often try to schedule a euthanasia for times that tend to be quieter in the hopes of creating a less stressful scenario for the patient. Sometimes the hectic times cannot be avoided, however, given limitation of the owner's schedule or if the euthanasia is more urgent. In that case, we may try to minimize stress to the patient by having the patient and their family wait in their vehicle until we can bring them in through the back door and straight into a room. However we can safely facilitate the appointment with the least amount of stress is exactly what we will try to do.

Minimizing the stress of the patient is something for owners to consider as well. There are certain little things we can do as owners to help our pets along in this process. First and foremost, as long as it is conducive to a calm and comforted patient, we urge the family member(s) to remain present in the room during the euthanasia process, at least until the patient is sleeping from the anesthesia. You will also not want to do anything that may indicate to the pet that they won't be going home with you. Things such as removing the collar or verbally saying goodbye may be good to avoid until after the pet has gone to sleep, but before the actual euthanasia.

At our practice we use anesthesia before the euthanasia. Once the patient is fully asleep, we administer the injection to euthanize. The heart continues to slow until it stops, but this change isn't something the patient is aware of because they're already peacefully sleeping. Some owners are understandably overwhelmed by the process and excuse themselves once the patient is fully asleep, but before the injection to euthanize, and this is certainly okay. We can proceed at that point without the owner present.

Many owners opt for cremation. This is a popular choice for those who might not have a place for burial or may not be physically able to do so. We work closely with Pee Dee Pet Cremation to arrange cremation on the owner's behalf. Pee Dee Pet Cremation can either do a cremation without return or a cremation with return, depending on the owner's wishes. If an owner opts for cremation with return, their pet's ashes are returned to us and we hold them until the owner is ready to get them. There is a cost associated with cremation, and return or no return have different fees. Patient weight is also a factor. But we want our clients to know that we do not make a profit on cremations or euthanasias. We offer these services out of necessity, not to make money. The crematorium with which we work can be contacted the day of euthanasia if the owner wishes to arrange for a special urn. Otherwise, when an owner has opted for the ashes to be returned to us they arrive in an appropriately sized square/rectangle tin urn.

We understand how incredibly difficult this is. We have all lost pets ourselves, and we have been by countless clients' sides when they are saying goodbye to theirs. Unfortunately, our beloved pets don't live as long as we do. Depending on your breed or breed mix, you can expect a lifespan from 7-16 years, but sometimes even longer. When you finally say goodbye, the emotional toll is a heavy one. When the time approaches, and life is getting progressively more difficult for an aging pet, some owners - out of an inability to say goodbye - keep their pets alive for far too long. If a pet is suffering and the problem can't be fixed, it is our obligation as loving owners to help them no longer suffer. Unbearably difficult, but this is an unspoken agreement we enter into when we bring our beloved pets into our lives; to love them and protect them. Sometimes that love and protection comes in the form of knowing when to let them go. If you find yourself confused about what is the right choice for your pet, we can always do what we call a "quality of life exam," where a doctor will do a physical exam and give you their honest professional opinion about the state your dog or cat is in and whether euthanasia may be the best course of action.

We are here to help. If you have any questions that were not addressed in this article, please feel free to email or call our office. We would be happy to help any way we can.

If you are approaching a euthanasia, or maybe you've recently experienced the loss of a pet, check out our brief article on Loss & Grief.


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