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Pet Euthanasia: Understanding the Process & Making Informed Decisions

Pet Euthanasia: Understanding the Process & Making Informed Decisions

Every pet owner wants to ensure that when it's time to say goodbye, their beloved four-legged companion doesn't suffer and can die with dignity. Here, our Parrish vets discuss pet hospice and euthanasia, and how to make decisions that are in your pet's best interest. 

Deciding on Pet Hospice & End-of-Life Care

While most of us think our dogs and cats should live forever, sadly, our four-legged friends are not immortal. Eventually, we'll need to part ways with them. 

Cats live an average of 12-18 years, while dogs live slightly shorter lives - 10-13 years on average. In comparison, people have an average life expectancy of 78 years in the United States. This means you as a pet owner will likely have to face the mortality of at least one pet during your lifetime. 

Veterinary hospice care is a service designed to make this easier for both humans and animals. This type of care is administered when the decision is made (typically by a pet owner and their veterinarian) that there are either no more viable medical options or that further medical treatment would cause more suffering, with little to no chance of recovery. At this point, the question then becomes how to make your pet as comfortable and free of pain as possible. 

Even after a veterinarian makes a fatal prognosis, there are still challenging and layered medical decisions to be made. Hospice care can include nursing care, efforts to relieve pain, and meeting any specific needs your pet may have. 

While some owners will keep hospice care in place until their pet dies of natural causes, most will choose to have their pet euthanized when pain and discomfort outweigh the benefits of extending their life. 

When is it time to euthanize my pet?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as these decisions are very personal and depend on a number of individual factors. However, vets who offer euthanasia often subscribe to the adage that it's better to be a week too early than an hour too late. Keep in mind that euthanasia is primarily for pets with a zero chance of recovery. While it might seem cold to euthanize "too early", it's much better than the alternative, where they experience preventable suffering. 

While your veterinarian may be able to tell you definitively that it's time to euthanize your pet in some cases, in others, you may ultimately need to make the decision based on your observations and instincts about your pet's behavior and attitude. 

Some signs that may indicate your pet is suffering or no longer enjoying a good quality of life may include:

  • Chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication has become an issue (your vet can help determine if your pet is in pain. 
  • You've noticed your pet is experiencing frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is leading to significant weight loss and/or dehydration 
  • Your pet has stopped eating and will only eat if you force-feed him or her. 
  • He or she is incontinent to the degree that they frequently soil themselves. 
  • He or she has lost interest in all or most of their favorite activities, such as playing with toys or other pets, eating treats, going for walks, or soliciting petting and attention from family members. 
  • He or she has developed chronic labored breathing or coughing. 
  • He or she cannot stand on their own or falls down when trying to walk. 

Still, this is not to minimize the benefits of waiting, taking more time together as a family, and spending more good days that make life worth living for your pet. These matter and should be considered, so as not to cut happy times together short. 

For all these reasons, the best advice we can offer is simply to discuss your options with your vet and your family, and make the choice you feel is right for your beloved pet's well-being. 

Once you've reached the point where you feel euthanasia is the most humane option, call your veterinarian and discuss your options. Many pet owners have their cat or dog cremated so they may keep a reminder of them in their home. Celebrations of life with loved ones and perhaps some grief counseling if needed, are a great way to memorialize your four-legged companion while moving forward with your life in a healthy way. Our entire veterinary team is dedicated to offering pet owners the support they need. 

Where should I euthanize my pet? 

One of the most difficult choices we face as pet parents is when to let our beloved companion go. Whether your cat or dog is in their golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal or incurable illness, dealing with this impending loss can evoke many emotions. 

This is where hospice and end-of-life care at Ellenton Animal Hospital can help. We will do everything in our power to make sure your pet's final days and weeks are calm, comfortable and free from pain. This can include a comprehensive quality-of-life exam, prescribing pain medication and food to help manage pain, and offering humane euthanasia. 

What's involved in the pet euthanasia process?

Your vet will ask you whether you'd like to stay with your pet during their euthanization. This is an important question to consider - some people are not emotionally capable of doing so, and whichever decision you make is okay. 

You may choose to be present while your cat or dog is sedated, then leave the area during the euthanasia itself. You might also ask a friend or family member that your pet knows and likes to take your pet to this final appointment, or to stay with your pet while you leave the room. 

A powerful sedative will be injected directly into your pet's vein, which will cause the nerves in your pet's body to stop sending signals (including pain signals). 

Your pet's breathing and heart rate will slow until they eventually stop. Though this may take as little as a few minutes, it can take up to 15 to 20 minutes depending on your pet, their condition, and other factors. The euthanasia solution will then be injected, and brain function will cease. 

Euthanasia is not painful for animals. Your pet's eyes may be open afterward. Your vet can close them if you wish. Many pets take a final, deep breath as they pass away. Due to the total relaxation that occurs, some will urinate or defecate. The vet will then listen to your pet's heart with a stethoscope to confirm that they have passed. We like to allow owners as much time as they need following the procedure, and are committed to treating every pet owner with as much compassion, sensitivity, and personalized service as possible. The entire process usually takes from 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you need help arranging hospice care or making end-of-life arrangements for your pet? We are here for you every step of the way. Contact our Parrish vets for a consultation.

New Patients Welcome

Ellenton Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Parrish companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

(941) 776-1100