|Euthanasia refers to the process of ending pet's life in a painless way using drugs that stop the heart. It is one of the most
difficult decisions that any pet owner will ever have to make. Veterinary medicine has devoted considerable research into
developing the most humane and painless methods, and in recent years, veterinarians have also begun to understand the
importance of emotional aspects of euthanasia. Some, but certainly not all, veterinarians are learning to develop skills to
help their clients cope with grief. When pet owners make the difficult decision, they should search for a caring, warm
veterinarian who can provide them with an adequate emotional support and show understanding toward making the final
arrangements. In addition, there are a number of pet loss hot lines, support websites, groups, and
chat rooms to assist you with coping with the loss of your pet (for a list of these groups, please visit the Support Groups
section). Every veterinarian performs euthanasia a little differently, but the pet owner is the ultimate decision maker with
the right to select options that are best for the pet during these final steps.
Preparation for euthanasia
Prior to scheduling the euthanasia procedure (be it in the hospital or at home), pet owners should request a
pre-euthanasia consultation to have all of their questions answered regarding the pet's prognosis, other options, and all
aspects of the euthanasia procedure. When all the questions are thoroughly answered, it may help diminish some of the
unavoidable feelings of anxiety and guilt. However, regardless of how much time you've had to prepare, the decision to
euthanize your pet will not be easy. You may also want to discuss your pet's body care after the procedure prior to
euthanasia. There are several options including burial at a pet's cemetery, individual cremation, or letting the hospital
make appropriate arrangements for your pet's body. For more details, please refer to the Memorial Services section.
Losing a pet is an emotionally charged and traumatic experience. Many pet owners seek ways to remember their pets long
after they are gone, and we have created a virtual Pet Tribute where you can post a photo of your pet along with your
Deciding on the right time to euthanize your pet is an agonizing decision. It is a very personal decision and will vary widely
among pet owners. Some people may decide to euthanize their pet immediately after cancer diagnosis, some make the
decision when their pet no longer responds to its surroundings or favorite toys, and some may choose to continue the
Pawspice care program (a term referred to pet hospice, discussed in more detail in the End of Life Management section)
until natural death occurs. There is no right or wrong decision and the decision is usually made taking into account several
considerations such as your pet's quality of life, severity of discomfort or pain, the cost of continued care, the time you
must invest for continued home or hospital care, and the kind of life you want your pet to live. When trying to evaluate
whether your pet's quality of life has been dramatically reduced, pet owners are encouraged to follow the Quality of Life
Euthanasia can be performed at your home, outdoors or at the veterinarian's office. Some people choose to be present
during the procedure to hold their pet and provide comfort and love during the last hour, while others choose to be absent.
Again, the decision is very personal and it is up to you to make the arrangements that are right for you and your pet. If you
choose to be present, you should discuss the details of the procedure in a pre-euthanasia consultation. The veterinarian
should provide you with information regarding the drugs (s)he plans to use, use of a catheter, possible side effects,
duration of the procedure and available support groups to help you deal with grief after the pet's death.
Involving children in the decision making
Many studies have shown that excluding children or making up stories (e.g., "Bear ran away") may be destructive in the
long run. It is important that you do not shelter your children from this decision-making process and that you appreciate
your child's ability to understand the concept of death.
Useful handouts from the Ohio State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Helping Children Cope with the Serious Illness or Death of a Companion Animal
Coping with the Loss or Death of a Companion Animal
Do Companion Animals Grieve?
Sources: Withrow Stephen J, and David M. Vail. Small Animal Clinical Oncology. St Louis: Saunders Elsevier, 2007.
|Euthanasia for Pets with Cancer
|PET CANCER CENTER
Comprehensive guide to cancer diagnosis and treatment in cats and dogs