Also known as 'putting to sleep', euthanasia is used to end an animal's life quickly and painlessly. Most often this is due to the animal having a critical or terminal illness with no chance of recovery.
Euthanasia is something almost all pet owners are going to have to face at one point or another. Bringing a pet into our life is an exciting and rewarding time, but sadly their lifespan is shorter than ours and therefore it is highly likely that we will eventually have to make the decision to euthanise them in order to end their suffering.
Why euthanise my cat?
There are many reasons why euthanasia is performed. This article will cover medical reasons only.
- The animal is suffering from a terminal illness which has progressed to the stage where drugs and treatment are no longer helping.
- The animal has suffered an injury which is so severe it is not possible to treat.
When will I know the right time to euthanise my pet?
This comes down to several factors, which ultimately comes down to the quality of life for the pet. This is something you will have to decide on behalf of your pet. While your veterinarian can guide you, you, being the cat's carer know your pet better than anybody else. When my cat was diagnosed with cancer I worried that I wouldn't know when it would be kindest to euthanise her, but when the time came, I knew. She had lost her spark, she couldn't get comfortable, she spent the last day and a half on a chair, trying to sleep but obviously finding it difficult due to pain. We didn't need to ask the vet if the time was right, it was very apparent that it was.
Many incurable diseases can be managed for a period of time after the initial diagnosis. Some treatments will manage the condition, others will slow down its progress. Only your veterinarian can advise on treatment options for your particular pet. Eventually, though, some diseases will ultimately progress to the point where euthanasia is the kindest option. When this will happen, nobody knows. This varies depending on the disease and the pet.
Points you need to look at include:
- Is the pet in a lot of pain which cannot be alleviated with drugs?
- Does the pet have injuries of which it will not recover is causing pain and suffering?
- Does the pet have any quality of life?
- Does the pet have any enjoyment of life? Does she still enjoy watching the birds outside or going for an afternoon walk? Does she still greet you at the door when you come home from work?
What happens during euthanasia?
Some veterinarians will perform euthanasia at home. This is something you should discuss with your veterinarian in advance, if this is possible, and what you want.
Your veterinarian will ask if you would like to be with your pet during the procedure. It is entirely your choice and one which you should be comfortable with.
Euthanasia is an overdose of a barbiturate anaesthetic. It is given by intravenous injection, usually in the foreleg. The animal immediately becomes unconscious, the heart stops beating and death follows. This usually takes around 10 - 15 seconds. Sometimes your pet may lose bladder or bowel control. Also, the pet's eyes may not close after euthanasia. Your pet may twitch a little or take a few breaths, these are both reflex reactions. All of these responses perfectly normal and in no way are they an indication that your pet has or is suffering.
If your pet is nervous, he may be given a sedative first, to help him relax. It usually takes around 15 minutes for the sedative to take effect.
It is advised that you call ahead of time to arrange euthanasia. Many vets like to leave this until the last appointment. That way, you can spend quiet time with your pet.
What happens after my cat has been euthanised?
Once again, your veterinarian can advise you on different options. Many pet owners want to take their pet's body home with them for burial. If you decide to bury your pet in your garden, please check with your council that this is okay to do. Other options are burial in a pet cemetery or cremation. You may also decide to leave your pet's body with the veterinarian. These are decisions you should make ahead of time, if possible.
How do I cope with the loss of my pet?
Grief is a completely natural response to the loss of a pet. And you should give yourself time. Pet owners consider their pet to be a loving part of their family and as such will certainly feel a profound loss upon their death. Do remember though that we all have our own reaction to coping and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do seek help if you are having trouble with grief. There are many pet counselling hotlines available.
If you are reading this article, and are facing having to euthanise your pet in the future, or have recently lost a pet my sympathy is with you. The act of euthanasia is one of kindness to our pet, although it leaves us behind, feeling the pain of losing a valued member of the family. Please remember, you acted on behalf of your pet and acted out of kindness.
This has been a difficult article to write, but one which is important to cover because eventually, every pet owner will have to make the decision to euthanise a pet and end their suffering. This is the one final act of love we can give our pets.