A pet is a huge part of a person’s or a family’s life. They feature in so many of our daily activities. You come home from work, they’re waiting to greet you. You curl up on the couch to watch TV, more likely than not they’re at your feet or nestled alongside you. If your pet is a dog, there are innumerable outings in which he or she has played a starring role.

So when a pet dies it can be devastating. That constant, that presence you could be sure of when you walked into a room, is no longer there. That personality is now absent.

This is hard enough to deal with if your pet dies quietly in its sleep, or is killed in an accident. But if your pet is sick and you have to make the decision to euthanize, you fall prey to a whole extra dimension of emotional trauma.

Making the Decision

Perhaps the hardest thing is actually deciding when to do it. You’ll know your pet is sick. You’ll have taken it to the vet and had its condition explained to you. But often there will be a period after diagnosis when your pet, though not well, appears still to be participating in life.

As your pet cannot talk to you, and as it can be difficult to determine whether or not they are in pain, particularly with cats, you’ll spend this time walking a tightrope between allowing the pet as many days of life as possible, and not causing it to suffer unduly.

It’s Your Responsibility

And it’s not as simple as asking the vet. They will tell you things like “There’s no treatment, it’s only going to get worse” or “Well… I wouldn’t leave it too long”. But they can’t make the decision for you. It’s your pet and it’s your responsibility.

This period, if it continues too long, becomes almost worse than the actual death of the pet. You live each day in an agony of uncertainty, looking for some sign that taking your pet for the blue injection is really the right thing to do.

So How Do You Make That Decision?

It really comes down to the quality of life the pet is experiencing versus the value that you, it’s owner, puts on the state of being alive. If you believe that life is the greatest treasure we posses and that there is nothing after it, then you may try to wait as long as possible before making the trip to the vet. If life is not of such great value to you, or you believe that there is some sort of continuation after death, you might feel comfortable making the decision sooner.

Either way, you must be careful that you are not causing your pet to suffer because of your own unhappiness at the prospect of losing a loved companion.

What Can You Expect On the Day?

By understanding what will happen when you take your pet to the vet for the last time you can better prepare yourself for the ordeal.

The process of pet euthanasia is virtually pain-free. The vet will slowly inject your pet in one of its legs with a concentrated solution of pentobarbital or a similar drug. This solution, often blue in colour, is very fast acting and causes the pet’s heart to stop beating.

One moment your pet will be standing on the examination table, the next it will have collapsed peacefully and lost consciousness. This process often occurs before the full dose of the drug has been administered.

Confirming Death

After the injection the vet will wait a minute or two before confirming death by listening to the pet’s heart with a stethoscope.

Often, this is the extent of the horror you’ll have to endure. In some cases, though, your pet’s bladder or bowel may relax and it may void urine or faeces. Sometimes, too, there may be involuntary muscle contractions that cause brief limb movement or gasping. These responses can be distressing, but try to remember that your pet is already dead by the time they occur and knows nothing about them.

Arrangements

Once death has been confirmed you will have the option of either taking you pet’s body home with you for burial, leaving it with the vet for disposal, or having it stored at the vet’s for collection by a pet burial service. You should decide which of these options you prefer and discuss them with the vet in advance.

Should You Be Present?

Being present in the examination room when the injection is administered is an individual choice. When making this decision, though, bear in mind the devotion your pet has shown you throughout its life and ask yourself, if the positions were reversed, what you would want. It may be that you’ll feel your pet deserves the respect and the comfort of your presence in those last moments.

Whether you intend to wait in the vet’s reception area or accompany your pet into the examination room, take plenty of tissues with you – you’ll need them.

Afterwards

After the trauma of having your pet euthanised you will feel wrung out and exhausted. Prepare for this if you can. Consider taking the day off work, or at least having an hour or two to yourself or with a supportive friend or family member.

If you experience feelings of guilt, try to keep them in perspective. Remember that your pet had to go. Keeping it alive an extra day or an extra week would only have postponed the inevitable and may well have caused your pet unnecessary suffering.

You cannot know what the exact, right thing to do is, nor the exact, right time to do it. All you can do is make the best decision you can at the time. And do it with love in your heart.

One woman shares her heartbreaking experience here:

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