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Knowing When to Euthanise Your Pet

 by jaime on 09 Jul 2014 |
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It's an unfortunate part of owning a pet: knowing when it's time to say goodbye. Pets sadly do not live as long as us so we stand to lose a number of our companions over the course of our own life. When your pet is coming to the end of their life, due to old age and/or chronic and terminal health conditions, it's up to us to make the incredibly tough decision to euthanise them. Knowing when that right time is can be an incredibly difficult and painful decision to make - especially since your pet can't tell you exactly how they are feeling or what their wishes are.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is where an animal is deliberately killed. The procedure is usually performed by a veterinarian and for the reason of humanely relieving that animal of their suffering. Sometimes animals are also euthanised for other reasons like aggression, behavioural problems or population control, but they have to be extreme cases. Medication that is very similar to general anaesthesia is normally administered and it only takes a couple of seconds to a minute for a pet to pass away by entering a deep sleep and then dying. It is completely pain free and without suffering.

Your vet can provide you with many options on how you'd like your pet's euthanisa to come about. You can arrange for it to be performed at home, or done in the car outside the vet practice, which is particularly helpful for large breeds. On the day, you are generally given as much time as you need and are often given plenty of privacy. You can also choose to be with your pet and even hold them while the procedure takes place. If you choose to remain present while your pet is euthanised, bear in mind that while it can look distressing, it's completely peaceful and pain-free for your pet.

Some pet owners prefer to avoid euthanasia altogether, in favour of their pet dying naturally at home. While the notion is coming from a good place - owners think their pet would feel more comfortable dying in familiar surroundings, or dying peacefully in their sleep, unfortunately that is rarely the case. Terminally ill pets, may die during the night, but are rarely asleep, often dying over a period of hours, not minutes. And depending on the pet's condition, can be a painful and restless experience.

For that reason, euthanasia is overall the more peaceful option for your pet.

How to know when to euthanise your pet

Only you and your family will know when it's the right time for your pet to be euthanised. It can be one of the hardest decisions to make, loaded with responsibility and guilt on whether you are either 'giving up' on your pet or even prolonging their suffering because you find it too hard to say goodbye. Generally speaking, if you have started to ask the question or contemplate that the end of your pets life is drawing nearer, then your are somewhat already on your way to making a choice. In saying that, there are some questions you can regularly ask yourself to help you come to a decision.

Is your pet still enjoying life?
Normally, what does your pet like to do? Do they love chasing a ball around the yard, playing with your children or other family pets or simply spending time curled up next to you? Are they still participating in the activities they once took great enjoyment in? If they no longer have the zest for life, then it may be time to think about what quality of life they are now maintaining. Just because your pet is alive, does not mean they are living.
Speak to your vet
While it's not your vet's job to tell you exactly what to do, it's good to speak with the vet that has looked after your pet most during its life to perhaps get some advice on your pet's condition, what options there are as well as to share your thoughts. It's also a good idea to seek out a second opinion and to weigh up all treatment options. Again, you know your pet the best and what they are like at home, but speaking to a professional can arm you with all the information you need to make a decision you are comfortable with.

Have a family discussion
If your pet is part of the family, then it's a wise decision to include them in the process. Chances are everyone will have a different take and perspective on the situation so it's a good way to hear everyone out. Particularly in situations like these, you don't always want to make a choice like this on your own-especially if your pet was taken care of by many people, rather than just yourself. It's important to remember and remind everyone that this decision is for your pet and what is best for them, rather than everyone else. It can be hard and very frightening letting go of a pet, but it's crucial to put your pet first.

Your pet is spending more time at hospital than at home
Some animals do spend a lot of time at hospital recovering or recuperating from surgery or receiving regular treatment, but are otherwise enjoying and participating in day-to-day life. This point is not directed at those pets. However, if your much-loved four legged friend is suffering from a chronic or terminal illness and are having to spend prolonged amounts of time in hospital - their quality of life is probably no longer very good. Likewise, if your pet is admitted to hospital due to an acute emergency or deterioration, chances are your pet is unfortunately rapidly reaching the end of their life.

Keep a pet diary to help reach an objective decision
Seeing your pet's quality of life deteriorate is awful to witness, especially when you've shared so many fun, happy and active times together. Many pet owners don't want to make the wrong choice for their pet's need, fearful they may euthanise them too soon, or too late, leaving them to suffer. Keeping a daily diary where you objectively note your pet's behaviour can help paint a picture of your pet's overall quality of life. Keep track of the following aspects of your pet's health:

    •    Ability to walk
    •    Responsiveness
    •    How much are they eating and drinking
    •    Frequency and volume of urination and stools
    •    Weight
    •    Displays of pain
    •    Resting respiratory rate
    •    Symptoms worsening/improving.

Note all of these aspects and if it's easier rate their abilities and symptoms on a scale of 1-5. You can also note whether it was a good or bad day to see whether the bad is outweighing the good.

It's never easy trying to decide when to say goodbye to a much loved pet. Remember to remain objective and always keep your pet's needs first. There is no right or wrong way to go about making the choice to euthanise, and it's a choice you should never feel pressured to make.

If you have recently lost a pet, or are about to say goodbye to a much loved pet, read our article on how to cope with the loss of a pet.



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