When an owner and veterinarian decide that a pet is suffering or unlikely to make a recovery, euthanasia offers a way to end a pet's pain. The decision is difficult for both the owner and the veterinarian, but we should recognize that sometimes this is the kindest thing we can do in the final stage of a pet's life.
Understanding how the procedure is performed may help an owner in this decision. It may also help an owner decide whether they wish to be present during the euthanasia. Initially, a pet is made as comfortable as possible. Our veterinarians will perform the procedure in a pet's home if that is requested. If the animal is brought to the hospital, the veterinarian will assess the patient and talk to the owner in a room to explain the process. Initially a sedative will be given to render the pet unconscious and completely relaxed. Once the pet is completely unconscious a barbiturate will be given intravenously. As the solution is injected within minutes the heart and lungs stop functioning. Since the pet is not conscious, they do not feel anything. Most times, the animal passes away so smoothly, that it is difficult to tell until the veterinarian listens for absence of a heartbeat. The eyes remain open in most cases. Sometimes, the last few breaths are what's termed "agonal", meaning involuntary muscle contractions but again, the pet is not aware at this point. After the animal dies, there is complete muscle relaxation, often accompanied by urination and defecation. This is completely normal and is something an owner should expect. In addition, after death, chemicals normally stored in nerve endings are released causing occasional muscle twitching in the early post-mortem period. Many owners who chose to stay with their pets are surprised how quickly and easily the pet is put to rest.
It can be difficult to process what to do with your pet once he/she is put to rest and we understand it can be a very emotional time. Our clinic offers cremation services through Faithful Friends that we will be glad to discuss with you either by phone or at the clinic.
The decision to stay or not stay with a pet is a very personal one. Some owners feel they could comfort their pet in its final minutes. Others feel their emotional upset would only upset their pet. Those who choose not to stay may wish to view the pet's body after the procedure is complete. Euthanasia is emotional for veterinarians as well. Sometimes, the veterinarian has known the pet for a long time or has tried very hard to make the animal well again. James Herriot stated the view of most veterinarians in All Things Wise and Wonderful:
"Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand."
If you have any questions regarding the process of euthanasia, please contact The Animal Clinic.
Pet Loss Support Hotline: 1-607-253-3932