Reasons for Euthanasia

Jonathan, my noble boy

Regardless of whether the death of our pets is sudden and unexpected or comes at the end of a slow decline, we are never fully prepared to lose them or aware of what they have brought to our lives until they are gone. Your involvement with their final passing may be passive. Perhaps you chose not to pursue additional treatment in an older pet. Perhaps there was no cure available and the best treatment option was to control pain and make them as comfortable as possible. Perhaps their illness or an accident took them from you suddenly.

We secretly hope that our pets will pass peacefully and hope that, when the time comes, we will find them curled comfortably in their favorite sunny spot. If you are in the position of having to take an active role in your pet’s ultimate destiny, however, the impact of his or her death could be quite different.

Euthanasia is the induction of painless death. In veterinary practice, euthanasia is accomplished by the intravenous injection of a concentrated dose of anesthetic. There may be slight discomfort as the needle tip passes through the skin, but this is no greater than for any other injection. It will take just seconds to induce a total loss of consciousness, followed by respiratory depression and cardiac arrest.

Doctors of veterinary medicine do not take this option lightly. Like our human counterparts, our lives are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of disease. We, too, pledge to do no harm to the patients in our care. Veterinarians must continually balance the benefits of extending an animal’s life versus prolonging suffering. Euthanasia is merciful if it ends a pet’s suffering.

The request for euthanasia of a pet is the most difficult decision a pet owner can make. You may overwhelmed by holding a life in your hands. You may resent being forced to make such a painful decision. You might postpone your decision, hoping that if another day goes by your decision will be unnecessary. Guilt sits heavily on the one who must decide. Here are two fundamental guidelines to consider that might make your decision clearer:

1. Do what is best for your pet, even if you temporarily suffer for it.

2. Do what will cause you the least amount of regret later. Your pet deserves a painless passing, but you also have the right to be happy.

Helpful Guidelines for a Difficult Choice

The following list of questions is offered to help you make some difficult decisions during a stressful and very emotional time. The list is intended to guide you, but only you know what is best for you and yours. Resist feeling pressured to make decisions if you are not ready to make them. Speak with people who can provide additional clarity or options. Consider what will bring you the least cause for regret:

  • What is the current quality of your pet’s life? Is your pet in pain?
  • Is your pet eating, playful and affectionate toward you?
  • Is your pet very tired and withdrawn most of the time?
  • Is there something you can do to make your pet more comfortable?
  • Are other treatment options available?
  • Would referral to a veterinary specialist help you make a clearer choice or improve your pet’s quality of life?
  • If a behavior problem has caused you to consider euthanizing your pet, have you consulted a veterinary behavior specialist?
  • Are you increasingly frustrated, angry or resentful because of the impact of your pet’s declining health or behavior on your own quality of life?
  • Are your negative emotions impacting your pet’s desire to be near you?
  • How would the quality of your life change if your pet were not with you?
  • Do you want to be present if you choose to euthanize your pet or would you prefer to say your goodbyes before and not be present?
  • Do you prefer to be alone or invite a family member or friend for support?
  • Have you thought about any special burial arrangements such as cremation or private burial? (Your veterinarian can help you with these arrangements, and might also be able to temporarily store your pet’s body to give you time to decide when you are feeling better).
  • Do you want to adopt another pet right away?
  • Would it be better to take the time to heal from your loss before thinking about opening your heart and home to another pet?
  • What can you do to turn your pain into something positive? (e.g. donation to a pet shelter or veterinary teaching hospital; volunteer at a veterinary clinic; put together a special photo album or scrapbook full of happy memories; write a poem; visit a long lost friend or relative; join a gym or yoga class; start a new hobby…)

“I care not much for a man’s religion

whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”

Abraham Lincoln