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When Do You Say Goodbye to Your Pet

Posted on November 09 2016

It is a harsh reality that every pet owner must accept: you will probably outlive them, whether you like it or not. As pet owners, it’s both a blessing and a curse to put a stop to the suffering of our furry companions.

Although it may be sad to think about how they will no longer be with us, it would be selfish if we chose not to end their suffering. No matter how muchwe love them and treat them as part of the family, we cannot ask them the degree to which they are silently suffering. It is up to us as their owners to make that decision, no matter how hard it may be.

Putting animals down to sleep is hard for veterinarians as well. However, they have a different perspective that makes them go and do their job. To them, euthanasia is often a blessing and gift to a suffering animal.

SO WHEN DO YOU KNOW ITS ALREADY TIME?

Veterinarians bring up euthanasia when your pet’s bad days outnumber their good days.  The purpose of the process is to eliminate prolonged, untreatable, or inevitable suffering. It can be argued that it is better to euthanize a terminally ill or aged animal a day early than a day too late.

Veterinarians consider many factors—physical and behavioral including your pet’s appetite, energy level, body condition and appearance, mobility, reaction to pain, and cognitive function. Assessing and evaluating these will give a clearer illustration if you should resort to euthanasia or if you can wait a little more.

Although you can use your vet’s assessment of your pet’s condition, it is ultimately up to you if you want to push through. After all, you of all people know your pet—theirbehavior and attitude. Every pet, illness, and situation are different. There are no definite rules that can be followed when it's time.

Here are some signs that may indicate your pet is suffering or no longer enjoying a good quality life:

  • They are experiencing chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication.
  • They have frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss.
  • They have stopped eating or will only eat if you force feed them.
  • They are incontinent to the degree that they frequently soilthemselves.
  • They have lost interest in all or most of their favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members.
  • They cannot stand on their own or falls down when trying to walk.
  • Theyhas chronic labored breathing or coughing.

Then again, suffering is not always manifested through physical pain. Some elderly pets will experience symptoms of dementia and constant confusion or restlessness which can lead to mental suffering—a symptom you can’t really tell. With some illnesses, only diagnostically lab work can tell if they are really going through a chronic disease. In this case, suffering will only be indicated after rounds of X-rays and pricks of needles for blood testing.

WHAT TO EXPECT: The process of euthanasia

Getting to decide whether it's time for goodbye may be the most stressful part of the whole process. Knowing what would happen, and making sure they would no longer feel any pain might help.

Here is the step by step process how vets put animals down to sleep:

  • Small to medium-sized pets are usually placed on a table for the procedure, but larger dogs may be more easily handled on the floor.
  • Often, veterinarians will place an intravenous (IV) catheter in the pet’s vein before giving the injection. The catheter will reduce the risk that the vein will rupture as the drug is injected. If the vein ruptures, then some of the drugs may leak out into the leg, and it will not work as quickly.
  • Your veterinarian will give your pet an overdose of an anesthetic drug called sodium pentobarbital, which quickly causes unconsciousness and then gently stops the heartbeat. Your veterinarian will draw the correct dose of the drug into a syringe and then inject it into a vein. In dogs, the front leg is most commonly used. In cats, either the front or rear leg may be used. The injection itself is not painful to your pet.
  • Your veterinarian may give your pet an injection of anesthetic or sedative before the injection of sodium pentobarbital. This is most often done in pets that are not likely to hold still for the IV injection. An anesthetic or sedative injection is usually given into the rear leg muscle and will take effect in about five to 10 minutes. Your pet will become very drowsy or unconscious, allowing the veterinarian to more easily perform the IV injection.
  • Once the IV injection of sodium pentobarbital is given, your pet will become completely unconscious within a few seconds, and death will occur within a few minutes or less.
  • Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to confirm that your pet’s heart has stopped.
  • Your pet may experience some muscle twitching and intermittent breathing for several minutes after death has occurred. Your pet may also release his bladder or bowels. These events are normal and should not be cause for alarm.
  • After your veterinarian has confirmed that your pet has passed, he or she will usually ask if you would like to have a few final minutes alone with your pet.

    WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

    Your veterinarian will talk to you about options for your pet’s final resting place. Cremation is the most popular choice, and you can choose whether or not you would like to have your pet’s ashes returned to you. Most cremation services offer a choice of urns and personalized memorials such as cremation jewelry.

    Burial is another option. You may want to bury your pet in your own yard, but before doing so, be sure to check your local ordinances for any restrictions. There are also many pet cemeteries throughout the United States. To locate a pet cemetery near you, check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries.


    The bond we have with our pets is unbreakable that even death can’t separate us with them. Choosing to end their suffering with euthanasia is the final gift we can give them.

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