Eventually, many owners are faced with making life-or-death decisions for their pets. Although it's never an easy decision to make, perhaps the kindest thing you can do for a pet that is extremely ill or so severely injured that it will never be able to resume a life of good quality is to have your veterinarian induce its death quietly and humanely through euthanasia.
During the decision-making process, it is important to consider not only what is in the best interest of your pet's welfare but also what is best for you and your family; quality of life is important for both pets and people alike. For example, if your pet has an injury or disease that requires more care than you and your family can provide to make sure it has a good quality of life, euthanasia may be the right decision.
Your veterinarian understands your bond with your pet and can examine and evaluate your pet's condition, explain treatment options along with any risks and estimated chances for recovery, and discuss possible outcomes including any potential disabilities, special needs or long-term problems. Because your veterinarian cannot make the euthanasia decision for you, it is very important that you fully understand your pet's condition while you consider your options. If there is any part of the diagnosis or the possible effects on your pet's future that are unclear or confusing to you, don't hesitateto ask questions that will help you understand.
Euthanasia is most often accomplished for pets by injection of a death-inducing drug. Your veterinarian may also administer a tranquilizer first to relax your pet if needed. Following injection of the euthanasia drug, your pet will immediately become deeply and irreversibly unconscious as the drug stops brain function; death follows quickly and painlessly. Your pet may move his/her legs or head, release bodily fluids or breathe deeply several times after the drug is given, but these are reflexes and don't mean that your pet is in pain or is suffering.
A decision concerning euthanasia may be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make for your pet. Although it is a personal decision, it doesn't need to be a solitary one. Your veterinarian and your family and close friends can help you make the right decision and can support you as you grieve the loss of your pet. Pet loss support groups and hotlines, as professional counselors, can also provide support.
A list of some pet loss support hotlines and services is below. This is not a complete list – your veterinarian may be able to recommend one for you.
University of Illinois217-244-CARE (2273) or 877-394-CARE (2273)
Michigan State University517-432-2696
P&G Pet Care, Pet Loss Support Hotline888-332-7738
The Ohio State University614-292-1823
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine540-231-8038
Washington State University509-335-5704 or 866-266-8635
2014 American Veterinary Medical Association