Questions and Concerns About Pet Euthanasia
Frequently asked questions are answered here about painless sedation, cremation, the right time to euthanize, and many other topics.
Frequently Asked Questions
After meeting you and your family members and friends, we will discuss together how you wish to proceed. I'll answer any questions you may have and make note of any special requests. I will next introduce myself to your pet and perform a brief examination. We will then take care of all paperwork (permission form, payment, creating a medical record). I will proceed with the sedation, the euthanasia, and your requested aftercare. The appointment usually takes 1/2 to 1 hour.
After examining your pet, I will give a painless sedation injection. It is during the next several minutes that the pet is dropping into a deep sleep and during which time you and family members can give comfort and say goodbyes. Soon your pet has entered a virtual anesthesia and will no longer be aware of your presence or its surroundings and will not be able to feel anything. It is at this time that many choose to not be present for the final step and will leave the room, but all are welcome to stay. I will then proceed with the euthanasia injection. I'll listen to your pet's heart and let you know when he or she has passed away.
Your pet's body will be wrapped in a blanket, and I will take it with me when I leave your home, or I may have a transport service come to your home as the situation dictates. We will have already selected your preferred aftercare arrangements when doing the paperwork soon after I first arrived. Most pet owners prefer cremation with the cremains (ashes) returned. Other options are to have cremation without return of the cremains, or you can bury your pet yourself once you have first checked with community authorities to be sure it is legal and you have called 811 at least 2 days before digging (or go to www.call811.com for more information).
An appointment can be arranged with consideration of each pet owner's and family's needs. Most appointments can be arranged between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm Monday through Sunday. An extra fee may be added for those finding an appointment later than 8 pm necessary or for an urgent drop-everything-and-come-now emergency euthanasia. Arrangements made with 24 hours notice or more are greatly appreciated.
You know your pet better than anyone. Watch for signs that tell you she is not happy anymore. I encourage you to make a list of three things that she likes to do. If she stops one of them, you are getting close. If she stops two, you need to do something, either dramatically increasing her treatment protocol or talk with your family about letting her go. The list can become the pet's "voice" when your emotions cloud your judgment. We get so used to a pet's new diseased condition that we forget what she used to be like, what she used to enjoy. We accept this new "normal" and pray she doesn't worsen even more.
Every week, I hear people say things like "She hasn't been able to stand for three days, she stopped eating about five days ago, and she doesn't want to be touched. She has been declining and losing weight for about six months, but today she wagged her tail. Am I being hasty about this?" My reply is that only you know for sure, but I consider this tail-wagging only a good moment in an otherwise bad day. Look for the time when the bad days outweigh the good. There is no rule or law that you have to choose euthanasia. We choose it because we want to end suffering.
After euthanasia, many people say to me that they waited too long. No one has ever said that they made the decision too early. It is our overwhelming love and devotion to our pets that makes letting them go so hard. Talk to your family; open up the communication now so that you are ready for whatever happens.
If we know he has a terminal condition, and you are not going to pursue treatment, then I am willing to help you whenever you need it. I would rather help your pet pass sooner than before unquestionable suffering has set in. In fact, there is a saying pertaining to euthanasia that goes, "I would rather help my friend a month too early than an hour too late". It is impossible to know when that "hour too late" will be until it has already arrived, so if you are choosing to be proactive, I support you. The only time euthanasia becomes an easy decision is when your pet is so miserable that you cannot help him fast enough. If you want to prevent suffering, I'm here for you. I would love to help your pet on a good day, when he is still open to affection, breathing comfortably, and not consumed by his disease.
I'll be just fine. With your help, I can give him lots of love and get him to focus on you rather than me. If he still loves treats, he can have as many as he wants while I quickly give him the sedative. It's just like giving a vaccine, and most dogs don't even notice it. If I feel it's necessary, I can always muzzle him for the sedative injection and then take it off so he can relax while it takes effect. Most of the time, this goes much easier than people expect. Remember, I don't look like a vet in your home. I'm just a friend who has come to visit.
You can do whatever feels right. Since we're at your home, you can step away at any time. I will proceed with things, and you can come back in after your pet has passed or you can stay in another room. You can even leave the house if you need. If you want to be with your pet as he falls asleep, you can stay for sedation and then leave once he is no longer aware of his surroundings. I can take care of everything by myself if that is easier for you.
Yes, you have to be a licensed veterinarian to perform euthanasia in a home like this. Being a vet is important so that I can help guide you in your decision-making and help your pet pass peacefully using the appropriate drugs and equipment.
Yes and no. It's a very challenging line of work but very rewarding at the same time. If you'd have asked me fresh out of vet school if I wanted to be a euthanasia specialist, the answer would have been "no." Now after nearly 12 years of performing this service, I cannot imagine not doing it. Those of us who provide euthanasia are familiar with the notion of compassion fatigue. I think it hits some harder than others. I like to focus on the positive during appointments, like the relief of suffering for the pet and the peace I can provide for all involved. The pets I get to work with and the people I get to know keep me going even on the hard days.
I personally feel that kids do wonderfully when allowed to be present. They ask questions, they see how peaceful it can be, and they learn how to grieve openly for their friend. Some kids really open up and cry, even sob, which I think is very healthy and important. A lot of children have grown up with the pet in question and want to be there to say goodbye. They may have never known life without them. Letting children know that they can leave the room at any time during my visit works really well. I've often suddenly noticed that one of the kids is no longer present. If given the chance, they will often distance themselves just the comfortable amount.
When I was 8 years old, our black lab contracted the distemper virus. My mom took him to the emergency clinic where they euthanized him. To this day, I wonder what his final moments were like. Was he scared? Did things go easy for him? Kids tend to have over-active imaginations and having them present can help keep things balanced.
If you choose to keep the kids away, there are some good ways to help them in the mourning process. I have seen some families release balloons into the sky as a way of symbolizing the release of the spirit. Some families put together scrapbooks, make up songs about their friend, draw pictures, etc. If you are keeping the ashes following cremation and plan to bury them, you can have a ceremony with the whole family.
The important thing with children is to allow them to grieve and to acknowledge that this may be harder on them than you might realize. The loss of a pet is often their first experience with death, and it is up to your family to make it a healthy experience. Be honest with them regarding what is happening and avoid confusing phrases like "going to sleep." Many children have lost sleep over this misguided phrase.