By Allison Salonko.
Allison is a Veterinary Technician in the state of Indiana. She graduated from International Business College and Vet Tech Institute of Indianapolis with a degree in Animal Science and Technology in 2011.
The veterinary field, while it is full of sweet and furry companions in many different shapes and sizes, one beautiful yet unfortunate thing will remain constant; the need for euthanasia.
This is frequently viewed as a taboo subject, or too difficult to talk about, but the need to perform a euthanasia is usually a necessary and sometimes beautiful one.
Saying goodbye is never easy
When it comes to a loved one who is sick and dying, discussing euthanasia is always an important conversation.
It is often a decision that is made out of heartbreak and lack of options.
No matter what the situation, it is still never easy to say goodbye forever to such a good friend.
Euthanasia becomes the necessary topic of conversation once the pet is found to be terminally ill, declining for an unknown reason or had a traumatic accident or illness.
On rare occasions, it is due to a lack of finances.
How to say goodbye to our four-legged friends
When dealing with an ill pet, realizing that euthanasia is the only way to end their suffering can be heartbreaking.
When confirmed by a veterinarian that this is the next step, acceptance is always the first step for the owner.
After that, the owner should remember to take their pet’s condition one day at a time.
Monitoring them for their good and bad days, providing them with proper pain control and advocating for their quality of life is an important part of the last few weeks before euthanizing.
Euthanasia from the vet tech perspective
Working in the veterinary field is tough, especially when there are several euthanasias that need to be performed in one day.
Dealing with the grief of the owners and their families, plus having to be the one to prepare the patient is never easy for the staff.
Please don’t forget that the ability to euthanize an animal that is suffering is a beautiful gift that is unfortunately not given to sick and dying humans.
We in the veterinary field truly believe that it is a benefit and not something that is viewed as negative.
Helping the owners make their decision
It is always our hope to ease the owner’s pain and sadness, but sometimes it’s not possible and only time will help with their loss.
Many owners will ask prior to euthanizing how they will know when it is time and how they can improve their pet’s final days.
I have always suggested thinking of three things that the pet loves to do.
This could include cuddling on the couch or playing with a favorite toy.
If they no longer do 2 or all of those 3 things then it is time to consider their quality of life.
Grief always comes in different shapes and forms, but trying to offer a shoulder to cry on or an ear to talk to can mean a lot.
The veterinary staff should always try to make the process of losing a beloved family pet as easy as possible.
Although a pet is ultimately just an animal, they can hold a special place in our hearts that hurts just as much as losing a life-long friend.
They are our friends after all, and show us unconditional love, so making the decision to euthanize that pet is truly a heartbreaking one.
The quality of life conversation – when is it time?
The moment that an owner realizes that their pet’s quality of life and daily comfort levels are no longer being well controlled is always a disheartening one.
Some owners wonder if they are being cruel or negligent by keeping them around when they worry they are in pain.
It is the veterinarian’s job to discuss with owners their options, whether the pet has plenty of time left and just needs something for arthritis or they are truly in bad shape.
The doctor needs to be sure to give them all possible diagnostics and prognoses before jumping to euthanasia.
Most veterinarians say that if your dog is no longer doing the things that they used to do, then the quality of life is a concern.
If the pet’s pain and conditions cannot be well maintained or if the owner cannot afford a necessary life-saving procedure, then euthanasia should be deeply considered.
Have your facts beforehand
It is extremely important to note that you should be 100% sure of your pet’s quality of life and medical conditions before committing to euthanizing.
If you don’t feel like you are giving your pet enough of a chance, it wouldn’t do any harm to get a second opinion from another doctor.
If you can afford it, running extra diagnostics if your pet’s condition or disease just doesn’t seem right, could save their life.
Always look into doing more tests if the issue at hand seems ominous or improperly diagnosed.
Behavior and aggressive pets
Sometimes owners are left with a difficult decision to euthanize a dog due to a behavioral issue like aggression.
In most cases dealing with aggressive dogs, they are healthy otherwise, which is what makes it a particularly upsetting situation.
Many veterinarians will not euthanize for the first-time incident of aggression, although things do depend on the circumstances.
It is important that you have at least attempted correction with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist before jumping to euthanasia.
When the time comes – how to say the final goodbye
If the need to euthanize a pet is foreseeable, many families will spend the last few days of that animal’s life pampering them.
If it is possible, giving them new foods and spending extra time with them will mean a lot for some dogs.
Spoiling with food
On the day of euthanizing them, many owners will feed them cheeseburgers, cookies, chocolate and other yummy foods they rarely have gotten to try.
In fact, many clinics provide chocolate Hershey kisses for dogs in their final moments.
Making sure to spend time with your dog before euthanizing is an important part of letting go and grieving.
Many families will make an evening of spending hours laying on the floor and pampering them with love and warmth.
In some cases, the animal is at the veterinary hospital undergoing care when the family decides on euthanasia.
The staff will allow the family to visit and spend time alone with the pet if they request it.
Give them a day to remember
Dogs usually have easy-going and happy spirits, most enjoy their time with their loved ones and going outside to their favorite park or grandma’s house.
Providing your dog with a beautiful final day of sunshine and family time means a lot to our four-legged friends.
Planning for burial or cremation
Deciding what to do with the pet afterward can be a depressing task and conversation, but it is something that must be done in people too.
Many owners opt for the hospitals’ cremation service that is offered.
Burial is not uncommon either but does depend on the cities laws regarding burying deceased pets.
Cremation is most popular because owners can receive their dog’s ashes back in an urn, some services also offer clay paw prints and certificates of death, among other cute add-ons like nose print necklaces.
Both of these cremation options can bring closure to a person or family that is grieving.
Take tons of pictures
Remember your pet with more pictures of their final days, even though it may be a painful memory, it is still a part of the process of being an owner.
Having photographs to remind you of your dog and all the love that you shared will help bring peace to a hard and painful time.
Have a support system
If you don’t have any family to support you during your difficult grieving process, then seeking out a pet loss support group would be important.
Yes, these do exist!
There are places to go and people who will listen to you talk and share stories while they provide insightful advice on how to help heal after your loss.
Online support groups
There are so many online avenues to help with loss.
There are specific online forums and chat groups geared exclusively to helping people with the loss of a pet.
If you are needing someone to talk to, then reach out online to a pet loss support group. You can find a quite a few of these even on Facebook – pet loss support groups.
Allow yourself to grieve
Sometimes people think that showing vulnerability and emotions are a weakness.
Know that they are not!
Allowing yourself the appropriate time and emotions to grieve and heal is the only way that you will mend your heart.
It takes time to heal
Losing anyone that you have loved is one of life’s most difficult moments.
Death can leave a huge hole in someone’s heart and time is truly the only thing that can repair a wound that large.
Remember that losing a friend is never easy and their paw prints will always leave a mark on our hearts and memories.
Photo by Sven Brandsma.