Pet Euthanasia: Deciding When the Time Is Right

When to euthanize a pet is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make, yet as most of our pets don’t live as long as we do, it’s inevitable. To help make a decision about pet euthanasia, consider the following questions:

Do you like and trust your veterinarian? Building a solid relationship with your vet over the life of your pet is very important. Your vet will have had time to get to know you both and will be in a good position to advise you during the difficult times. If you do not have this relationship with your vet, then either work to develop it or find another vet.

How many people are affected by the illness and possible death of the pet? If it is just you and your pet, then the decision about pet euthanasia might be easier. But if there are other family members involved in the pet’s life, then their feelings and wishes need to be considered.

Including children in what is happening at every stage is very important. If the pet is sick, then explaining in simple but direct language what is wrong can help remove the mystery from a child’s mind. This gives you the opportunity to show that animal bodies don’t live forever. Then, when the sickness progresses to the point where your pet needs to be euthanized to prevent further suffering, the child will understand it more easily.

How much money are you prepared to spend? Most of us hate having to look at this. We feel we would do anything humanly possible to save our animals’ lives. But unless you have an insurance plan, many treatment options or specialists can be very expensive. If you choose an expensive treatment, will your vet allow you to pay over time? Are you prepared to forgo other purchases in favor of spending that money on your pet?

If extensive nursing care is needed, do you have the time? Of course you want to have the time for someone who has been so important to you and your family. But you need to be realistic. Is everyone out at work or school all day with long commutes back and forth? With diabetes, for example, the pet might need an insulin shot twice a day, 12 hours apart. Can you fit that into your schedule?

What kind of place do you live in? For a dog who has rear-end paralysis, special carts with wheels are available to support their back legs while the dog propels forward with their front legs. These work great on hard surfaces, such as concrete or a firm lawn. But they do not work well in sand, loose soil, or very rocky areas. So you might have to decide whether a cart is an option in your area.

How does the sickness affect the quality of your pet’s life? How do we define quality of life? A simple question to ask is, "Can my pet still be a cat/dog/etc.?" Are they still able to do things they enjoy, or is their life not fun anymore due to the progression of their health issues?

Coping with pet euthanasia

The term “euthanasia” means “gentle death,” and when done by a caring professional, it can be very releasing for a family after having experienced a painful illness.

When it’s time for pet euthanasia, and where applicable, allow all of the family members an opportunity to say goodbye to the pet. Some veterinarians will even come to your home to perform the euthanasia. This is an individual decision and might not be appropriate in all situations. 

Creating a ritual around the life of your pet also can be very healing after pet loss. If possible, lay your pet to rest in a quiet part of your yard and put up a marker with his or her name on it. This can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. A rock with the pet’s name in indelible marker written on it, a piece of wood with the name carved into it, a ring of stones, or a newly planted tree on the site will help family members remember all the good times they had with their pet. If you choose cremation, then you can create a place of honor for the ashes, with pictures and stories contributed by everyone in the family.

Talking about the pet seems to be an important part of getting through the inevitable grieving process. Remembering all the little things that made your pet an important part of your life helps to ease the pain. 

Animals teach us unconditional love, loyalty, kindness, and a host of other wonderful things. They make us better people. After a period of mourning and remembering the old days, think about adding a new animal to the family. You and your family will see that life goes on and that it is possible to love again.

Learn about Best Friends Animal Society memorials and placement at Angels Overlook and Angels Rest »

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Just a few short years ago, cats and dogs were killed in staggering numbers in this country simply because shelters didn't have the community support or the resources to save their lives. That number is now less that half a million per year, but there's still work to do to ensure a bright future for every dog and cat in America.

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