(Advice from Ellen Moore RVN.)
Having grown up with pets my entire life, I’ve had to deal with the inevitable heartbreak of saying goodbye to them. Especially when the younger ones were taken before their time, but also each and every time, both personally and professionally, I can assure you that it doesn’t get any easier.
People often ask me how do we do this part of our job and in all honesty, it’s because we can. We can take away the pain, but no, it doesn’t get any easier. This is why Vets have one of the highest suicide rates – because it’s just so difficult to bear the responsibility and heartache.
This is never going to be an easy topic to write about, let alone read. But unfortunately, it is a topic that is often ignored or glazed over until your pet is old and poorly or the worst happens suddenly. And then you’re standing in the consulting room with the Vet, unprepared, having to make one of the hardest decisions of your life.
Making the right decision
This is never going to be an easy decision and I’m not going to pretend that it is. Every person has a connection to their pet, as well their own views on euthanasia. And whether it’s right or wrong, it’s one of the things we can do as an owner to prevent further suffering. Unlike with human patients, we can’t explain to the pet what is going on, so you have to make the judgement for them.
Sometimes you have more time to make a decision, with the pet gradually deteriorating and as an owner, you can prepare yourself and think of all the options. However, it is important to ensure that your pet doesn’t suffer and judging this is the hardest thing for an owner to do. The Vet can talk to you about pain and necessary pain management and the medical jargon about your pet’s condition and treatment. But as a Nurse, my advice is that one of the most important things with any animal is to consider your pet’s quality of life.
This is explained in detail in our October 2016 blog “what makes my pet happy”. Essentially what this means is that if you have a dog who loves to play fetch, and go on runs, then he/she can only have a wonderful life if they can keep on doing this. However, if they lose the ability to walk, then they are unable to do what they need to make them happy. Also, of course, your pet’s general medical condition should not be overlooked, and likely progression should be discussed with your Vet, as each case is different.
Each pet is unique and as an owner, you know your pet the best. Vets can’t tell you what to do, but they can give you the advice and the medical information to make an informed decision. And support you when it’s time.
It is important to make sure you are aware of the options ( there are usually always more than one) and ask if you are unsure about anything.
What happens at your appointment
When you have made that decision, we try to book you in at a quiet time if possible, because having other pet owners in the waiting room as you sit and wait can be very difficult. We recommend you booking an appointment , rather than a walk in, as then we can book you for a double appointment.We don’t want you to be rushed.
Once the Vet has discussed things with you, there is a legal form for you to sign. It ensures you understand and agree to what to going to happen. This form will also have an option for what to do afterwards. Yes, this is very morbid to think about – we understand you don’t want to have to think about it. And if you don’t want to think about this until after, that is OK too – there is an option on the form to ask us to hold onto your pet until you have had a chance to think it all through and let us know later that day or the next day.
For the euthanasia, you can choose whether to be present or leave your pet in the capable hands of the Vet and Nurse.There is no right or wrong decision, so don’t feel guilty if you don’t wish to stay.
If you choose to stay, then the Vet will place an intravenous catheter into the vein. If your pet is stressed, then the Vet might give them a sedative to calm them down. However, this is not always done, as it can make their blood pressure drop which then makes the placing of the intravenous line more difficult.
The Vet will give you time to say goodbye if you’re not ready. When you are ready, the Vet will flush the IV catheter with a saline solution to ensure that the vein is still patent, then they will inject the solution. This is an anaesthetic drug which works very quickly and your pet will soon go to sleep, lose consciousness and the heart will gradually slow down and then stop. The Vet will check with a stethoscope and will let you know when this has happened. However, it is important to be aware that sometimes there are involuntary muscle contractions. This may look like your pet is gasping for breath but it is only a reflex. They may also urinate and defecate afterwards.
Sometimes if your pet is very ill, even without sedation, then it might not be possible to place a catheter. In these cases, the Vet may decide to inject directly into the vein via the needle. Or they may need to inject into the abdomen.
You are more than welcome to stay with your pet afterwards until you are ready to leave.
There are then a few options . You can decide to
- Take your pet home to bury
- Have your pet communally cremated- ( the ashes are not returned)
- Have your pet individually cremated The ashes are returned and there is a wide variety of urns available , depending if you want to keep your pet’s ashes or scatter them somewhere memorable.
If your pet is going for cremation then they are kept in cold storage with us until they are taken to the crematorium. They are labelled so that the crematorium knows which pet is which and which cremation method has been chosen.
If ashes are to be returned, then the practice will contact you once they are back. It depends on when the collection is, how long this will take- please ask for the expected date of return.
There are several pet crematoriums around London, so if you would like something specific (such as a private service) then speak to one of the members of staff and they can advise you what the options are.
Don’t rush into a decision if you’re not ready. Make sure you understand each option and also the financial cost of each one.
Losing a pet is like losing a member of the family and struggling to come to terms with the euthanasia of your pet is natural. If however, you are finding it very difficult, there are some very good bereavement services available so speak to a member of staff and they can give you the details.
I hope that this has covered the basics of this very sad time in all pet owners’ lives. We all keep pets for the company they give us and yet it is important to understand the responsibility which comes to making important decisions on their behalf.
All the staff members know what you are going through, so we understand it is never an easy decision and we are here to support you through it and answer any questions you have.
Ellen Moore RVN
Owner of many pets over the years, May they rest in peace.