As your dog or cat ages, you’ll need to decide if you would prefer to let them die at home or to have them humanely euthanized. People always ask: How will I know it is time? While this is a very personal decision, there are a number of indicators that you can use to help you know when it is time to help your pet pass away. Please note that I refer to your pet alternately as him or her for clarity.
How Do You Know When Your Pet’s Life is Coming to an End?
Does your pet act like herself or himself anymore?
How much of the day is your pet like this? Is it only for a few minutes of the day, or it the majority of the time? If your pet seems lost mentally or painful physically for much of the day, it is perhaps getting to be time.
Is your pet still eating, drinking, playing or going for walks?
These are all concrete indicators of how your pet is doing, and are easier to evaluate than pain, as some animals are more stoic, or more “vocal and dramatic,” than others.
How difficult is the process of medicating and treating your pet?
Is the medical intervention disturbing your bond with your pet or making you feel like you are traumatizing him? If your cat is hiding under the bed all the time to avoid being pilled, perhaps prolonging his life is not the best choice for either of you.
Are there reliable and easily administered pain medications? Pain can be very difficult to evaluate in pets. Our goal is to control your pet’s pain so that he can enjoy the time that he does have. If we can’t adequately control his pain, perhaps it is time to set him free. Our veterinarians can help you evaluate your pet’s pain, and give you some hints about monitoring for pain at home.
Is the time that you are buying going to be good time?
Perhaps you are at the point of trying to evaluate whether or not to proceed with some type of intervention, for example, should you start chemotherapy, or do a large surgery such as back surgery for disc disease. Choosing to amputate a limb in a young dog that has been hit by a car if very different than choosing to do so in an older pet with bone cancer, for example, and while veterinarians try their hardest, prognosticating is at best an uncertain process. Now is a good time to sit down with your family and veterinarian to discuss the ramifications of all your different choices. Are you truly doing this for your pet, or actually because it is just too hard to say goodbye or to make the conscious decision to stop treatment and let go?
Can you afford the procedure being offered?
We are lucky to live in a time when our ability to help our animals medically has ascended to the level of that in human medicine. Unfortunately, as the level of care has risen, so has the cost, forcing many of us to make difficult choices. It is hard enough to decide to proceed with a potentially life saving but painful procedure without having to worry if you will be able to pay for it! To make matters even more complicated, frequently these decisions have to be made quickly and at times of emotional duress. Also, even within a family, people have different opinions and philosophies, adding even more tension to an already stressful situation. These are very difficult issues to think about, but one must. Know that everyone faced with making medical decisions for their pets or loved ones faces these choices. You are not alone. If you cannot help your pet regain a good quality of life, it is the kinder choice to set them free.
What does your heart say?
Sometimes our heart has the answer, if we can just be brave enough to hear it over all of the other noise around us. This is not to say that you will know for sure–few situations are that clear-cut. Remember that not knowing does not mean that you are not in touch with your pet; it may simply impossible to know for sure.
Does your pet know what is going to happen?
I do not believe, nor is there any medical evidence, that animals truly understand what is going to happen, though they definitely can pick up on their owner’s distress or anxiety. Because we love our pets, it is very easy to anthropomorphize and misinterpret their actions as being perhaps more human than they actually are. Pets are actually quite lucky in that they seem to live in the moment and not worry about the future. Still, we can help them by staying as calm as possible and helping them to pass in the gentlest way possible. By choosing at-home euthanasia, you are giving your pet the chance to pass in the comfort of her home, something most of us hope for.
How can I bear to help people euthanize their pets?
Many people have asked me how I can “stand” to put pets to sleep. Well, I feel that life is a cycle. We are all born, we live, hopefully rich and fulfilling lives, and then at some point, we must die. If I can make that final passage easier, if I can help prevent your pet from suffering a painful end, then it is all worth it. Euthanasia at home is so peaceful. Your pet is in their home environment. You will know that your pet is not worried or scared, and that their final memory will be one of you at his/her side, gently easing him across that final frontier between life and death. We should all be so lucky when our time comes, to go gently with our best friend at our side.
Euthanasia: How does the process work and is it truly humane?
The process of humane euthanasia is a very peaceful process. To explain, after thoroughly discussing you and your pet’s circumstances and if the decision has been reached that his/her quality of life is poor, I would first give a sedative/pain killer. This is a tiny injection that may pinch a little bit, or your pet might not notice at all. It works slowly over about 10 to 15 minutes to relax your pet and take away pain. Once the first injection has taken place, then second injection, which is actually an overdose of anesthesia, will be given. This injection is also painless. Most pets don’t even notice when the injection is given, though all pets vary and some might look at me or pull their paw away from me a bit. After the final injection is given, your pet will pass slowly through the planes of anesthesia, basically falling asleep and then entering a deep plane of anesthesia. Anesthesia is a state where an animal cannot feel, hear or see anything. This is what happens when we undergo general surgery, and it is a completely pain-free and unconscious state. As the anesthesia becomes deeper and deeper, eventually the heart will slow down and stop. Your pet will only be aware that he or she passed away gently in your lap or with their head on your knee or in your hands.
After Care Options
After care refers to the physical process of taking care of your pets remains. There are several different options available to you. Burial, Private or communal cremation.
When considering cremation, it is important to understand the different options.
- A TRUE PRIVATE or INDIVIDUAL CREMATION is a cremation procedure during which only one animal´s body is present in the cremation chamber during the cremation process. The animal is uniquely identified throughout the process. This results in the animal´s cremated remains being the only remains processed and returned. Many people choose to have their pet privately cremated and their ashes returned to them. I will assist you by taking your pet’s remains with me, after you have said goodbye. Once your pet has been cremated in his own private crematorium, he or she will be returned either to me or directly to your regular veterinarian, where you can pick them up when you are ready. The process usually takes between 7-10 days, but can be rushed if needed.Your pet’s ashes will come back to you inside an urn, which is clearly labeled with both you and your pet’s name.
- A COMMUNAL CREMATION is a cremation procedure where multiple pets are cremated together without any form of separation. Cremated remains are not returned to owners. Until We Meet Again is fortunate to have available to them a meadow on private grounds in the Fraser Valley, to scatter group cremated remains.
- There is also the option to take your pet’s remains yourself to Until We Meet Again where you can be personally involved in your pets’ cremation from start to finish.
- BURIAL Some people prefer to bury their own pets on their property. This can be a nice option if you have small children, sometimes being involved with the burial can help with closure. Different cities have different regulations however, so you would need to check with your city prior to choosing this option.