January 23, 2017

Euthanasia General

Euthanasia – One Veterinarian’s Perspective on Saying Goodbye to a Pet

by Karen Strickfaden, DVM, CVA, CAC

Saying goodbye to a pet is never easy. Whether your beloved friend has been with you a short time or for many years, the memories and bond can be very strong. Pets have a special way of opening our hearts and loving us completely for who we are and asking for nothing in return. Letting them go may be the hardest thing but also the most loving thing you ever do for them.euthanasia

Euthanasia – When it is Time?

Sometimes our pets have a sudden, life-threatening illness.  Other times, it is a very slow deterioration and aging that leads us to ask the question, “How will I know when is it time to say goodbye?” I have been asked this many, many times over the years. This can be a very difficult question to answer since every pet and every situation is unique.

There are several ways I try to help someone decide when it is the right time. I try to have the pet’s guardian contemplate the pet’s quality of life.

  • Is the pet happy?
  • Does he still like to play or engage with the family?
  • How is her appetite?
  • Can we manage the pet’s pain?

These signs can give you an indication of whether or not your pet is still enjoying life.  You can also ask yourself some important questions:

  • What reasons make me think it is time to say goodbye?
  • Are all family members in agreement?
  • Am I making this decision because it is best for my pet?
  • Am I holding on because I’m not ready to let go?

Watch for a Sign

I also believe that pets give us a ‘sign’ when they are ready to say goodbye and cross the rainbow bridge. The sign is unique for each pet and relationship, but once they give you the sign, you will know. It may be a look they give you from their favorite resting place, it may be laying their head in your lap or refusing their favorite toy or treat. There are many ways they can communicate their final wishes to you if you are open to receive it.

It is important that you are comfortable with your decision to help your pet say goodbye. (Being “comfortable” is not the same as being “happy” with the decision). You will still go through the 5 stages of grief, but knowing it is the right decision at the right time will help your heart heal.

The Hardest Part of Being a Veterinarian

People always think that euthanizing pets is the hardest part of being a veterinarian. Actually, telling the human caregivers that their pet has a terminal illness is the hardest part for me. Letting the pet pass peacefully is my final gift and blessing to a suffering animal. I lost my mother after battling terminal cancer and I wish I could have helped her cross over with the same dignity and peace we give our animals.

My heart goes out to both the animal and the family every time I say goodbye. Just remember, that even though you may be saying goodbye to your pet’s physical body, I believe that their spirit and joy lives on within us forever.