Often people find the decision to euthanase a very difficult decision, as it should be. Sometimes it can be a very obvious decision especially when a decline is sudden or there is severe trauma with a poor chance of recovery. But considering euthanasia as an option, especially when disease progression is slow, or pets are physically well but mentally suffering, or they seem to perk up on occasional days can help owners feel a little more comfortable with their pets’ declining condition and allows them to draw a line in the sand and feel a little more in control of what is often a very emotional period.
When pets have a slow decline, or bad days with the occasional good one it can be difficult to actually think they need you to intervene because they seem to perk up whenever you even think about end-of-life choices. It can be difficult for owners of pets with dementia or behavioural problems who are otherwise bodily healthy but need sometimes significant management to prevent accidents or misadventure, as these guys don’t look, or act like a pet heading towards the other side.
However, sometimes it can be easier to consider whether your pet is SUFFERING instead of ‘in pain’ as not all end-of-life pets are in pain. Dementia, renal disease, and some cancers have no significant physical pain, but can cause severe suffering to the pet if left to take their course. And death rarely comes ‘in their sleep’. As nice as that would be, Mother Nature’s death is rarely quick, nor without suffering. So it can be easier to keep a tally of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days, maybe marbles in a jar for example, and then examine the jar at the end of a period of time (like a month) and this will give you an idea of the balance of life quality for your pet. After all, you know your pet better than anyone.
And then we come back to quality of life. Some people hold on to their animals through love and are oblivious to the quality of life, some because they agonise over making a decision to euthanase whether through guilt or religious reasons. It is quite common for veterinarians to be consulted as to whether we consider the owners’ contemplation of euthanasia to be fair or justified, and nearly all of the time we will agree. If we don’t feel in our hearts that it is time yet, we will offer solutions or possible alternate therapies, but ultimately the decision lies in the hands of the owners who are the legal guardians of the animals. Sometimes people just need to hear us say it’s OK, and that helps them to lift some of the guilt from their shoulders.
It’s perfectly normal, and almost universal amongst owners to feel some guilt when they consider euthanasing their beloved pet, as if they are betraying their best friend. It is a completely normal emotion, and in the circumstances justified. It can help sometimes to look at euthanasia as not a decision to end a life, but instead a decision to consciously END THE SUFFERING your pet is experiencing, rather than to let them decline into a miserable state.
When is the best time?
This is another really common question. My advice is if you are even considering euthanasia you are recognising the declining quality of life in your pet somewhere deep-down, even if you don’t want to consciously recognise it just yet. But don’t wait until your furry friend is miserable to make your last memories, instead try to recognise when the bad days are outweighing the good days, make a date and stick to it. Make the last memories good ones. Once you have made your date spoil the heck out of your pet – have your own special little bucket list that you go through and give them a fabulous last hurrah!
Once you have made the decision, you can decide if you would like the euthanasia performed in the clinic setting, or at home: we are happy to work around your wishes on this. We will discuss what is involved in the consult, whether you would prefer your pet to be sedated beforehand to relax and have cuddles, and what you are expecting to do with your pet afterwards. Options are home burial if you prefer to do that, cremation, or we can take care of the body. Once your pet is euthanased you will have time alone to have those last cuddles, those last moments and, if cremation is preferred, to leave anything with your pet you would like cremated with them. If you have something special you would like done such as pawprints, or a lock of hair then we can do that too. This consultation is a time that you will never have again so we will work with you to make it as bittersweet for you, and your pet as we can.
The grief you will feel is often profound, and really hits people hard once we advise them that their pet has gone over the Rainbow Bridge. This again is completely normal, and expected: after all you’ve just lost your friend. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to grieve openly, to show the loss you are feeling and the hole in your heart. You can also expect to feel sorrow for days or even weeks as studies have shown that people now feel the same level of grief over the loss of a pet as they would for a human family member, and this is such a true reflection of how much pets are a part of our family now. Some people feel they will never recover, but often, after a time they find they are missing that part of their life that used to take their love, and give them love in return. Because pets are good for the soul. You will never have a pet like the one you lost, but you’ll find another with just as many quirks that you’ll love just as much because they are different, and because of that, unique. When, or if you get another pet is completely personal, and you’ll know when it’s the right time.
I was once told ‘Grief is the price you pay for Love’, and how true it is. But you know what? Even if I had to grieve as much again as I have for every pet I’ve lost, I’d pay that price again in a heartbeat because the unconditional love, support, and joy I get from my pets everyday makes it just that little bit easier when I have to say Goodbye to them, to thank them for every day they gave me, for all the cuddles and the love when I needed it most, and for saying all that ever needed to be said between us without a single word needing to be uttered.
** If you find you are having trouble coming to terms with the loss of your pet, and your grief is affecting your everyday life then we suggest you talk to a counselling service such as Beyond Blue (beyondblue.org.au) as sometimes this extended sadness can be an indication of depression**