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When the end is near for your beloved pet

No one ever wants to say goodbye to their pet, but when it is necessary and in its best interests it can be done with love (Image by Nanne Tiggelman/Pixabay)

Euthanasia is the practice of ending the life of a patient to limit the patient's suffering. The word “euthanasia” itself comes from the Greek words “eu” (good) and “thanatos” (death). It’s something vets have been dealing with for a very long time, but not something you ever get used to.

People often comment, “I don’t know how you do what you do,” in reference to putting an animal to sleep. I’m not sure I know the answer, only that I can, and that I see it as a serious responsibility and an enormous privilege that I have this final treatment option to offer when their animals need is greatest. But it isn’t easy, and it does take its toll on you emotionally.

An old vet once told me: “If you ever get used to putting animals to sleep, get out of the profession.” He was right, it isn’t something you harden to over time. In my experience it gets more emotional the older I get due to the weight of numbers weighing heavily on my shoulders. I give a little piece of my soul to each and every animal and hope that they know I was doing my best for them. Their owners are in grief and often feeling guilty and need my support and council to help get through the emotions, which is a heavy burden to bear.

Owners always want to know “when is the right time?” This answer is more complex than it first appears as the right time for me, with all the knowledge and experience I have with disease and suffering, may be different to theirs, struggling to let go of a beloved family pet. But there is no right or wrong answer, it’s a personal choice.

I always try to think about it from a quality-of-life perspective. Is the quality of this animals’ life good or not. Can I control the pain they are in, or the nausea? Are they living a full life, able to eat and drink, enjoy small pleasures, groom themselves? These are all indicators which we use to advise owners. It helps if you know the animal well and have seen them happy and healthy. We use tests to understand how the disease will progress and give as accurate a prognosis and timeline as possible to help with the timing of the final decision.

Owners often say to me: “I wish he would just close his eyes and go to sleep.” That is what we can offer with euthanasia, the medications we use were formally used as anaesthetic agents, which are over dosed, so when we say “put to sleep“ that is quite literally what is happening.

Making this decision is always painful, and is never easy, even when the animal is clearly suffering and has lived a long life. No one ever wants to say goodbye. But if it is done with love, and in the best interests of the animal, a “good death” is what we would all hope for. This can be achieved with our pets, in a quiet, pain-free, peaceful way, in the comfort of their own home, surrounded by their family. A planned euthanasia can be a very loving event and one which should be seen as a final gift to your pet.

Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband, Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. She is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda

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Published May 23, 2024 at 7:59 am (Updated May 23, 2024 at 7:39 am)

When the end is near for your beloved pet

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