02May
2016
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Diego and Roxy wearing sunglasses while promoting the Resting Paws car rally

Euthanasia

What is euthanasia?
Animal euthanasia [1] (euthanasia from Greek: εὐθανασία; “good death”) is the act of putting an animal to death or allowing it to die by withholding extreme medical measures. Reasons for euthanasia include incurable (and especially painful) conditions or diseases, lack of resources to continue supporting the animal. Euthanasia methods are designed to cause minimal pain and distress. Euthanasia is distinct from animal slaughter and pest control although in some cases the procedure is the same.
Typical humane euthanasia procedure:
During the process of euthanasia, the pet is normally injected with a chemical substance (called pentobarbital) that is very closely related to some of the drugs normally used to induce general anaesthesia in animals. This chemical essentially acts like a severe overdose of veterinary anaesthetic: it enters the animal’s blood stream and suppresses the function of the animal’s heart and brain, causing instant loss of consciousness and pain sensation and stopping the beating of the animal’s heart, thereby causing death whilst the animal is deeply asleep. This is where the term “put to sleep” comes from. The animal peacefully and instantly falls asleep (undergoes anesthesia) and then passes through into death without experiencing any pain.

Deciding when it is time to euthanize a pet is the most difficult part of being a pet parent. We do not want our pets to suffer, but we also don’t want to let them go.
In a perfect world pet owners would think about how far they are willing to go to treat any illness their pet might develop when they first buy or adopt them.
Most don’t think about the end of life care for their pets until they have a diagnosis of something serious. At this point it is a good idea to ask your veterinarian what kind of symptoms to expect as the disease progresses [2]. What stages will the illness take? How long until symptoms become medically unmanageable, before your pet is in too much pain? At what point will your pet no longer be able to function normally? This information can help you form a plan. By defining a decision point you place boundaries on the suffering your pet is likely to endure. It is a good idea to discuss your thoughts and feelings with your veterinarian and this would also be a good time to talk about aftercare options. It is easier to talk about these issues when you are not in an emotional state. The tough part will be to stick to your decision when the time comes.
Unfortunately, you don’t always have the luxury of time…a sudden illness or accident might mean that you only have minutes, hours or days to decide what is best.
You also have to think about if you will be present during euthanasia. Many pet parents feel that their pet will be calmer if they are there and others can’t bear the thought of seeing their pet die. That decision is yours and yours alone. No one can tell you what is right or wrong. Watching your pet die is definitely traumatic. On the other hand it also alleviates any fears that your pet suffered.
Hopefully you have discussed the aftercare options with your family and veterinarian. Knowing what has to happen next is easier than trying to decide what is best when you are in a very vulnerable state. The aftercare has to be what you and your family need and there is no right or wrong.
Some of the myths about euthanasia revolve around the feeling that it is not Nature’s Way. Keep in mind that surgery, treatments and medications are not Nature’s Way either. By providing treatment you are artificially prolonging your pets’ life far beyond what would happen if things were left to progress naturally. Euthanasia is not so much about artificially ending a life as it is about stopping artificially extending a life. Some pet parents feel that euthanasia is selfish…they didn’t do enough, they didn’t have enough money. These pet parents are often the ones that have done everything possible to help their pet. A more dangerous form of selfishness is to prolong a pets’ suffering.
When our cat K.T. was diagnosed with kidney failure we opted to start a special diet. She lasted 4 years on diet alone and then we were told that she was dehydrated and would need subcutaneous fluids in the near future. At that point we decided that K.T. was palliative and that we would keep her comfortable as long as possible. At the beginning of 2014 we noticed small changes… she wasn’t safe jumping up and down her chair, she wasn’t purring as much. By August 2014 she had blood in her urine and we decided it was time. I stayed with her through the euthanasia and for me it was the right decision.
We hope that this article is helpful and maybe starts you thinking about your options and what is best for your pet, you and your family.
[1] Wikipedia
[2] Excerpts are taken from Euthanasia: The most painful Decision by Moira Anderson Allen as posted on the Pet Loss Support Page.