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Making the Tough Decision to Euthanize Your Pet

Updated on May 14, 2014
My Jarck Russell Terrier, Rosco
My Jarck Russell Terrier, Rosco

By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

Disclaimer:

This topic is sensitive and everyone has different views. All perspectives are offered in the spirit of respect.

When should I euthanize my pet?

It was two heartbreaking years ago that illness forced my husband and I to decide whether to put my beloved Jack Russell Terrier, Rosco, to sleep. The previously frisky little dog had lymphoma in its advanced stages.

Watching him suffer daily, with an oversized lump on his foreleg hindering his walk, was absolutely agonizing.

Through tears, I made the heart wrenching decision to say goodbye to him at the hands of a sensitive and caring veterinarian.

Fortunately, time padded my grief. Rosco had tucked himself in a little corner of my study and left peacefully a few days before his appointment. My decision didn’t affect his passing.

The decision to euthanize a pet is a heartbreaking choice no one favors. Subjective and difficult, it should never be judged.

When should we decide to euthanize their beloved pets? Where should the goodbye take place, and how should they grieve?

Cloudy, my frisky West Highland White Terrier
Cloudy, my frisky West Highland White Terrier | Source

Why making the decision is tough

You won’t discover pet owners who euthanize their pets of their own volition. The decision to part in this way comes after a maelstrom of emotions and addressing the conflict within.

1. A pet is part of the family.

A pet is an indispensable part of the family unit. It is an identifiable part of the family in the way a child is. It bonds with the family in the evenings in front of the TV and accompanies it to bed at night.

This isn’t often noticed, and is even annoying. But a dog protects the family when it barks at strangers who come to your door.

Being as valuable as he is, the choice to release is a heavy burden.

2. A pet’s love is unconditional.

The love of a pet is unconditional, In spite of the harsh words we have for their occasionally difficult behavior, they stay close to us without question. They reciprocate whenever we offer our affection.

It’s their ability to not question or judge that sets them apart from us and makes them more lovable.

4. Is it moral to decide?

Providence teaches us that all life is precious. It’s not surprising that we feel anguish when we bid our pets goodbye.

There are moral considerations to ending their lives that truly pain you. Regardless of whether it is merciful, we wonder if it’s within or moral right to do.

The process of pet euthanasia: What to expect

The process, being a sensitive one, usually begins with your vet explaining it. Don’t hesitate to ask all the questions you need.

Provide a blanket for your pet to rest on, whether he is on the table or the floor. A qualified veterinary technician who has the skill to hold your pet in the appropriate manner, will ensure that the process goes smoothly.

The vet then administers a dose of sodium pentobarbital, which causes unconsciousness and gently slows the heartbeat. If the pet won’t hold still, the vet will administer anaesthetic before this.

Cloudy Bowing, ready to play
Cloudy Bowing, ready to play | Source

Reasons not to euthanize your pet

With all the difficulties, pet euthanasia is not an ideal choice for all owners and raises a few questions.

1. We wonder if we could have saved him.

We wonder if alternatives could have saved our beloved pets. Recently, its illness compelled my mother to bid her elderly Bichon Frise farewell.

She still ponders over whether it was too soon to put down the dog, which found eating arduous.

2. Pet owners feel responsible

Having to hold the dog in the process creates a lingering sense of guilt. We feel responsible for its death.

Being the survivor instead burdens us more heavily.

When to euthanize your pet

Reasons to release him peacefully: When it’s time

To decide to euthanize a pet is never pleasant, but is a fairer and less painful alternative that relieves a pet of its suffering.

1. The pet leaves peacefully.

The pet says his farewells peacefully in the comforting arms of its owner. It leaves, assured of affection and kindness.

2. The injection is painless.

Euthanizing injections are painless and render the pet unconscious, There is little physical suffering in the process.

3. Pet owners are able to part gracefully with their pets.

I preferred that Rosco said goodbye of his own will, but others want the opportunity to say their goodbyes.

Pet euthanasia avails owners of that chance.

4. The pet dies with dignity.

The pet leaves this world with dignity and not in a prolonged state of suffering.

Personally, I would rationally decide on euthanasia in fairness to a suffering pet. You can choose to have a vet perform the euthanasia at home, a place that comforts him.

When to relieve your pet of his suffering

We never stop asking the question for fear of making the difficult decision too soon. When do we know when the right time is?


1. You have already started asking the question.

If you have a terminally ill pet and have already asked yourself if you should relieve it, the question is a sign of your intuition that it is now.

We will know instinctively when needful should be done.

2. Your family has unanimously agreed to euthanize your pet.

This is a decision that your family will want to avoid, but if it is unanimous after discussion, you should take the next steps.

3. Your vet has advised it.

Consult your veterinarian, several if you need to. If they deem it advisable, consider making the preparations.

4. Base the decision on your observation

Monitor your pet. Observe if:


  • it responds when called or petted

  • it can still walk

  • it eats

  • it drinks

  • it urinates

  • it defecates normally

  • it has lost a great amount of weight

  • it has been hospitalized often within short periods

  • its respiratory rate is decreasing


Your answers to these will determine your decision.

Bao,, a neighbor's cute Maltese
Bao,, a neighbor's cute Maltese | Source

Easing the process

The day itself will be a painful one, but some coping mechanisms can help to ease the process.

1. Take a friend with you.

A clear-headed friend will be helpful at this time. He is not likely to grieve as much as you are and will offer a rational and comforting perspective.

You will require him to help with paperwork and other administration you won’t be in the mood to complete.

2. Choose a quiet time.

The best time for this unwanted procedure is when the clinic is quiet. This allows a little privacy. Book an ideal time frame of about 30 minutes with your vet.

3. Leave the clinic by the back door.

Ask if you can leave the clinic by the back door. You’re less likely to grieve in front of other patients.

4. Have the euthanasia at home

The home is a viable alternative. It is where a pet draws familiarity and comfort.

Some vets perform in-house calls. Mobile vets drive around performing such services.

Deciding to bury or cremate

Decide, before the euthanasia, how you would like to handle your pet’s body. Would you like it cremated or buried?

If the decision is to bury, be certain of local laws and climate factors. It’s easier to bury a pet in the winter when the ground is softer.

Seclude the burial site so that other animals have no chance to dig up the body.

My hungry dog, Misty, can't do wiithout dry food.
My hungry dog, Misty, can't do wiithout dry food.

Grieving for a pet

Owners experience stages of grief ranging from denial, anger and finally, acceptance. This varies from person to person.

Explain to children factually that their pet has passed away. Children are perceptive and read your body language. They know if you are being truthful. Be tactful with what you say to them.

Other pets may feel the loss of their companions too. They display the same symptoms of restlessness and depression. Some pets may not show any signs of loss. You can treat them as you have always done. Allow those who are grieving more time with the family.

Conclusion


Pet euthanasia is a devastating process, but thinking ahead will ease it.

Original Work by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin all rights reserved


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great topic! My friend was faced with a difficult decision but her dog was very ill and Euthanization was her only choice.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Been there several times and it is never easy. In fact, we will have to do it again this year I'm sure, and I'm not looking forward to it.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      I've always wished human doctors could euthanize like Veterinarians can. But that's another subject altogether.

      If my dog, Baby, became so ill she was suffering and there was no cure for her that I could afford, I would be faced with this decision.

      That would break my heart, of course.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks DDE

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill!

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      Been there and have done that many times. It is very difficult to go through. I seem to have some strange and rare diseases that have run through my cats and no one can figure it all out. Buster had gotten some cancer in his lungs, but it did not manifest like that. Instead it showed up in his eyebrows. After 6 weeks of medications and trying t keep the areas clean it was time to put him down. Our vet sent his workups and tests to a veterinarian research center so that they could prevent or cure others with this disease. The oncologist told him that he had never seen anything like that in that kind of place. When we put him down I simply just told Buster to sleep because he really needed the rest and peace and quiet. Oh they do come back in a few weeks in spirit and he did and he asked me why this happened to him. All I could say was that we didn't know...because we do not know. I also had another cat that we had to put down with another rare disease. They told me that they could remove all of his teeth but they could not guarantee that he would be ok. He was is so much pain and it was an ordeal to get him to eat.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      You handled a very sensitive subject in a very respectful way. You covered most of the gambit of feelings associated with anesthesia, also. I've been there and done that also, as Lady Guinevere so aptly put. I, too, have had mostly cats that I've had to put through it. Cats are particularly had to diagnose and I think sometimes try too hard to hide their symptoms until it's too late. Then, you have a choice to make and it's never an easy one.

      Well done and voted up.

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 2 years ago from United States

      When we had to put down our fancy rat, we went through a lot of these thoughts and feelings. It didn't make the decision any easier, but in the end we knew we had to let her go. She had a massive mammary tumor which was scabbing over, was losing weight and had trouble eating due to crooked teeth. She had trouble walking as it progressed, and I had to hold her to steady her while she ate. The grief was immense.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      We had a cat that was with our family for 18 years. We knew it was time to put her down when she stopped recognizing us, kept biting out tufts of hair, and no longer could make it in time to the litter box. Our adult daughter was her caregiver, and we left it up to her to let us know when. By then, we knew it had to be done. The vet's office made a nice keepsake for us with her photo and paw print. We cried when we received it in the mail!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 2 years ago from Western NC

      This is such a difficult decision to make. It's never, ever easy. We've had to do this twice in our ownership of seven different pets over the years and...it is like losing a member of the family. But, I love how you approached writing this - so touching and so professional. HUGS

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      You've done justice to a most difficult situation. If you have pets then this is quite likely a decision that has to be made. Over the years I've had many occasions - horses, dogs, cats. I will never feel anything but total grief and I've agonised many times as to if I've done the right thing at the right time. Sometimes, I look back and still agonise although I know it was right to end the suffering. Decisions never to have another pet so I won't have the same dilemma don't work. Hence my beautiful dog Nell and two cows.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for sharing, Debra. it always, always fills us with angst to part with our pets.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Ann!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Denise!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, CiC!! missed seeing you around!!! Hope all's going swimmingly with you!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      This is true, Travmaj. But I guess we instinctively know what's best....and we're true pet lovers!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Maybe because I am a country girl and this is how it happens with older pets but it is nature for them to go off and die and even if it sounds cruel I am glad my Lily (cat at almost twenty) last fall just left and did not come back. I just imagine and hope she passed in her sleep but they do know they are dying and so nature teaches them that. She had not left the yard in many months but the woods are close by and that is where she went and I did not go looking for her. It seems a ritual she had a right to as sad and worried as it made me but this has happened to many people; many times. Of course if she had been in moaning pain and anything such as that of course I would have taken her to a Vet but as it turned out I let her do it her way and I do not have those bad memories. I don't know I will ever be lucky enough for this to happen with another pet. It is still very sad.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      I had a Samoyed dog which was in the family for 13 years. when it was her time, she just went into the drain and passed away. it's always sad. Thanks for sharing, Jackie.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We have had to make that hard decision several times and it is always heartbreaking but have never wanted our pets to suffer needlessly. Sharing this well written hub.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Vicki L Hodges 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I had to do this with a cat several years ago. I struggled as to the timing of it. She had kidney failure. The others I've had died quickly at home. I dread the day I might have to make this decision with my little dog.

      Great hub on a very sensitive topic.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      Every pet owner should give careful consideration to the possibility of this need before they are met with it. The pet's needs/sufferings are the most important issue, not what the owner wants. Many ill pets would go ahead and die without medical care when they get sick. Compassionate euthanasia for pets is an important choice when they have no future apart from increasing suffering. We still miss our cat a lot, but we could not let her suffering continue to increase. Thanks for offering a balanced look at this topic and opening up an interesting dialogue.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, it's heartbreaking, but even more heartbreaking to see them suffer.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Vicki, I am with you. I dread the day when I have to do the same for mine, who's not very young anymore and already had seizures. Thanks for sharing.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, RTalloni. Their comfort comes above all.

    • Pamela Bush profile image

      howtopam 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Thank you for touching on this very emotional subject, and giving sound advice. It's never easy to let go of a pet (family member). I have had to twice thus far and still feel guilty,wondering if there was something I could of done differently to save them. Both times were so heartbreaking I well up with tears just talking about it. Thank you again, their comfort should always come first.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for sharing, Pamela.

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