When it’s time to say goodbye

By Sr Julia van Draanen :  Euthanasia is a dreaded word for all pet owners.

Maybe the vet says ‘put him out’ or ‘put him down’ or ‘put him to sleep’. Whatever it is, it means you will be going home without your beloved pet.

Pets are well loved family members often taking the place of children and grandchildren. Many of you will have had a family member or friend that has been terminally ill and wished there was some way to end their suffering. However hard, this is the one last loving, responsible things we can do for beloved pet that is in pain or suffering.

Veterinary staff deal with these situations on an almost daily basis but it is never easy. As animal lovers ourselves we empathise with owners and feel their pain with them.  Many pets euthanised have been long term patients at the hospital or the owners are well known to the staff. Veterinarians will never discuss euthanasia with a pet owner if they did not feel it was the right thing to do.

Many people want to know how they will know it is the right time to have their pet put to sleep. It is important to understand that every pet, every situation, is different. For elderly or terminal pets this can be a grey area but help is available. Allow your vet to examine your pet and then discuss any diseases present and the treatment options. This allows you to make an informed decision when the time comes.

It is important to discuss everything with other family members so that everyone understands. If you feel you are unable to trust your decision, ask a friend or family member who is more objective to help you.

It is very important to consider your pet’s quality of life. This can be hard as they will often have good days and bad days rather than a steady decline. It might help to keep a diary. Consider the following:

  • Is he eating, enjoying his food?
  • Does he drink enough water?
  • Can he still get up and about?
  • Does he still greet family members?
  • Has he retained his toilet training?
  • Is able to keep himself clean?

It is important to remember that the pet is the most important thing here. Remember pets do not have our perspective on life, they will not be dwelling on the good ‘ol days or wishing they could just live to see their owner get married etc.

There are other times when it will be necessary to consider euthanasia such as after a serious accident and sometimes euthanasia also has to be carried out in less than ideal circumstances which can lead to much soul searching, pain and distress.

Such circumstances are an aggressive dog, the owner no longer able to care for the pet due to their own illness, the owner unable to afford necessary veterinary care, owner having to move house and unable to take pets with. Many of these circumstances can be avoided or an alternative solution found.

If you find yourself getting close to euthanising your pet in any of these circumstances speak to your vet, a rescue organisation or a pet behaviourist. You just may save a life. 

If you are finding it hard to come to terms with what you need to do ask yourself some questions, maybe write down your concerns. It may be that you do not know if you are making the right decision. It may be because you do not know what to expect. It may be that you feel you will be judged by someone negatively for your decision. When you know what is stopping you, you can get help to see your decision through.

Having made your decision you will need to make an appointment with your vet. It is best to tell the reception staff that you will be bringing a pet to be put to sleep so they can then schedule a quiet time of day. Sometimes it is best to discuss everything before arriving so you have no last minute decisions to think about. You will have decided if you would like to stay with your pet while they are put to sleep. And you will need to decide what you would like to do with your pet’s body. 

None of us like to face death and the temptation is to leave the room whilst our pets are put to sleep. Many people then have feelings of guilt not being with their pet for their last moments.

The veterinarian will need to give an injection in to your dog’s vein. Most often they use the vein the front leg. Some veterinarians like to place a catheter in the vein rather than just a needle. The injection that is given is like a very strong anaesthetic.

As your pet is given the injection they will relax, become unconscious, stop breathing and then their heart will stop. This all happens within a few seconds. It is a very peaceful process.   It is not unusual for the pet to empty their bladder and / or bowels as they relax. Some pets, particularly elderly or very sick pets, may look like they are gasping. This is not a gasp for breath but the muscles relaxing and the air leaving the lungs. The veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart with a stethoscope to ensure they have passed.  

Don’t be worried about showing emotions at this time. Everyone reacts differently.  You will not be judged by staff as they have seen the whole spectrum of emotion at this time. Many people are shocked at just how upset they are at the loss of their pet

Most people opt to have their pets cremated. There are dedicated pet crematoriums for this. There is the option of having your pets ashes returned so that you can bury or scatter. A home burial of the body is not recommended. The crematoriums offer other options such as being present for the cremation, a wall of remembrance etc. It is very important that you have discussed these options as a family and make your wishes known to the vet.  

It is important to understand that you will go through the grieving process.  The loss of a pet leaves a big hole in the home and this will affect you every day. If you are struggling to do this alone ask for help, talk things through with a friend, your vet or a councillor. Do not think just because it was an animal not a human your emotions are any less valid, if it’s how you feel it is how you feel.      


About Valley Farm Animal Hospital 24-hour Specialist Referral Centre

Valley Farm Animal Hospital in Faerie Glen, Pretoria, is one of the biggest veterinary practices in South Africa. In addition to general veterinary care, the practice offers a 24-hour on-site veterinary team for emergencies and in-patient monitoring. Valley Farm GP veterinarians are supported by specialists in medicine, surgery, anaesthesia and radiography.

Valley Farm provides Pretoria pet owners with high quality veterinary care, pet grooming and a well-stocked onsite shop. They also provide pet owners from all over South Africa with specialist care for their pets which are referred to the Hospital.

The practice offers world class facilities including CT Scanner, video endoscopy, Sonar, dedicated soft tissue and orthopaedic theatres, high care facilities which are used to aid full diagnostic work-ups and to operate and treat sick patients. Additional services are stem cell therapy for arthritic pets, dentistry, physiotherapy and acupunctur

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