One of the toughest things about being a vet, and one of the privileges is ending a life humanely. In this country we are licensed to euthanize animals. This act has many euphemisms – “put to sleep”, “put down”, and “say goodbye”; among others. These phrases all mean the same thing – taking a conscious decision to end the life of an animal and putting that decision into practice. We are one of the very few professions who undertake this act – and therefore we are carefully trained to explore the ethics and practicalities of the procedure. But for you, the owner, there is only one real question – “How do I know when it is time to say goodbye?”
This is a question with many answers, and it is our job, as your vet, to help you to come to a decision. Many animal owners will face this choice in the lives of their animals. After all, humans live for around 70 – 80 years, but dogs and cats live only 8 – 13 years on average. Over time in our practice we have come to know bouncing puppies, see them every year for their vaccines, treat their occasional illness, and then, one day, put them to sleep. We are there with you on the journey through their lives. And we will be there at the end, if necessary.
Firstly, a lot of owners just “know” when their pet has had enough of this life. You as the owner, see them every day, and you will know when they are not happy. However, I usually ask an owner a few questions when they come into Downe Vets. E.g. “Does your pet have more bad days than good”. If, for example, your pet has arthritis and finds movement painful on four days out of five, then that could be a useful indicator of poor quality of life. Other indications for euthanasia could be intractable pain, inability to walk, chronic incontinence or extreme uncontrolled aggression. Each patient is unique, as is the animal / owner bond. The decision to euthanize your lifelong friend is personal and difficult, and we are there to help and advise you. We have seen it all before, but each case is still special.
So how does this work? A lot of owners ask this, as they want to know that it won’t hurt. I can assure you that it doesn’t. There are different methods, but at Downe Vets we give the owner the choice of sedation. This means that your pet is unaware of anything happening and is not stressed. We then overdose with an anaesthetic, and they slip off to sleep forever. This usually takes place in a dedicated consultation room, somewhere quiet in the practice to give you and your pet privacy. An increasing body of owners like this to take place in their own home, where there pet is happiest. This can be arranged.
What happens afterwards? Again – not something we like to think about, but necessary. Again, there are many options. Some owners opt for cremation. Some like cremation with the return of ashes, in a box or tube for scattering at a place where they walked their pet. You can even have the ashes made into a pendant. Finally some owners donate their pet’s remains to veterinary science, to improve the care of pets in the future in the local area. It makes sense to discuss these options well before the difficult day. A bit like making your will. You hope you don’t need it too soon!
As you have read, this is an emotive and complicated topic. It is one of the most important jobs we do, and is never easy. But it is important to remember, that, unlike in people, it is a treatment option. Animals do not have to suffer hopelessly, you, as their best friend, can ease their pain in cooperation with your vet. If you have any questions, please get in touch.