210 Pinebush Rd., at the corner of Pinebush & Franklin.

Euthanasia -a difficult and painful decision. How to know when it’s time, and what to expect.

April 12th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized

As the art and science of veterinary medicine progress, many tests and treatments formerly offered only to human patients become available to pets. But one option that is denied human patients has always been there for veterinary patients and their families: when the time comes, a decision can be made to end a pet’s life purposefully, humanely, and with dignity. This option, so often a great blessing, brings with it a great responsibility.

Friendships that have been so cherished are terribly hard to let go of. We want our friends to live, but we also wish to spare them pain and indignity. We hope to time their passing wisely; to recognize the moment when prolonging their lives serves only to postpone the pain of losing them. We should not require them to suffer so obviously that our decision is made for us, sparing us the agonies of doubt and guilt.

Although many times the correct path is quite clear, it is often very difficult to decide when a life should be ended. In such a case the answers to the following questions may help clarify the issue.

€ What is the prognosis? How much improvement, if any, can be expected? How much pain and discomfort will accompany treatment? This must be balanced against the prognosis.

€ How rapidly can the condition be expected to progress? Can the patient return home for a time, during which leisurely goodbyes can be said?

€ Is the nursing care required at home within the household’s capabilities? Many people find it very gratifying to nurse their pets through their final days, but this can also be difficult and stressful, causing frustration and guilt.

€ How much is the patient suffering? This can be extremely difficult to judge. To expect a pain-free existence is often not realistic–after all, few people over the age of thirty experience life with no pain whatsoever. The question is whether pain and distress exceed or eliminate the enjoyment of life. But pets are often very stoic and give little external evidence of suffering. Here are some general guidelines we have found useful:

€ Is s/he eating?
€ Is s/he having difficulty breathing?
€ Does s/he seem to enjoy contact with people or other pets in the household?
€ Is s/he able to move about, or does s/he lie in one place?
€ Is s/he able to get away from his/her own urine and/or stool?
€ Does s/he cry, or whine, or moan?

The relative importance of these factors varies with each situation and each person’s outlook, but asking these questions may help make your decision more clear. Please do not hesitate to ask us to assist you in making the decision that seems most right for you and your pet.


If you and the doctor agree that the time has come to humanely end your pet’s life, here is some information you should have:

€ For the sake of your privacy we like to make appointments at specific times, usually the last appointment of the day. That way you can have as much of our time as you need. We usually allocate a 30 minute appointment for euthanasias.

€ Making financial arrangements for this service in advance allows you to make a more comfortable exit. Some pet owners prefer to sign consent forms and pay for the service one to two days before the scheduled appointment. Others opt to do so immediately before the procedure.

€ You will be asked to fill out and sign a form granting your permission for the procedure and designating whether you wish your pet’s remains to be returned to you. If you wish to take them home, please bring a suitable carrier to take your pet home in. If the remains are left with us, they will be sent to an animal crematorium and incinerated. We use a local company that has demonstrated they can be trusted. The doctors and staff have all had their own pets cremated by this company, so you can rest assured they will take good care of your pet.
There are two kinds of cremation available: group cremation and private cremation. With group cremation, several pets are cremated at the same time; the cost of this is less than for an individual cremation. Should you wish cremation with the ashes returned to you, please let us know so we can make the necessary arrangements on your behalf. It usually takes a few weeks for the ashes from a private cremation to be returned to the clinic; we will call you as soon as they arrive.

€ Some pet parents choose to stay with the animal until the very end. Some stay until their pet is so sleepy it is not aware of them any more, but leave before the animal has passed on. Others prefer not to be present for the procedure. We want to do what is easiest for you, and will support you in either choice. If you choose not to stay, please rest assure we will make sure your pet is petted, cuddled and bundled in a blanket, so that its last memories are all pleasant.

€ We may give a sedative first, so your pet is not afraid and doesn’t feel any discomfort during the catheterization procedure.

€ The doctor will likely pre-place an intravenous catheter, to ensure the injection goes as smoothly as possible. If this is the case, your pet will be taken to the treatment room for placement of the catheter before being re-united with you for the actual procedure.

€ The drug we use is a very strong barbiturate (anaesthetic agent). In most cases it can be administered via two types of injection:

1. Intravenous

With this method the drug takes effect very rapidly. The animal will experience a moment of euphoria, due to the “high” humans experience from barbiturates. Your pet will then feel very sleepy and then its brain will stop all functions. Often, by the time the doctor has finished the injection, the animal has already passed. Occasionally the pet will give a little gasp or a mild twitch after it has died. These rare events are the body’s final electrical and chemical activities. They do not indicate pain or distress, since brain death has occurred. We know it can be unpleasant to observe but rest assured your pet is dead at this point and no longer aware of anything.

2. Intraperitoneal

This method can be used in cats but not in dogs. The drug is injected into the abdominal cavity. This rarely causes any significant discomfort, only the small pinching sensation of an injection, and the pet simply falls asleep. Because the drug is absorbed through the lining of the abdomen this method is much slower than the intravenous method; ten minutes or more may pass before the patient loses consciousness, with the heart continuing to beat for several minutes more. The I.P. method is a good option for frail elderly cats whose veins might not be easy to find.

€ In either case the doctor will listen to your pet’s chest periodically until the heart has stopped and life has ended.

€ It is not uncommon for anal and urinary sphincters to relax at the time of death, resulting in the release of urine and/or stool. With certain disease conditions or injuries there may also be drainage from other body openings. If you are taking your pet somewhere else for burial, you will want to bring blankets and plastic bags to protect your car’s upholstery.

Finally, please accept our condolences. And please allow yourself to grieve. It is only natural to do so. We get so much love and pleasure from our pets, but we do have to pay a price, all at once, at the end. The pain is great now, but in time your grief will soften and you will be left only with the sweet memories of the love and companionship you and your friend had the great good fortune to share.

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