An Act of Kindness
Our pets are members of our families; so, when it comes to saying goodbye, it can be an extremely tough and emotional time. Please rest assured, there’s support out there to help, from knowing the right time, to understanding the process and grieving after the death of your pet.
What you need to know about euthanasia
We would all want our pet to pass away naturally at home in their sleep, saving ourselves from the difficult decision to bring them in to the vets. This is perfectly normal and, on occasion, it does happen. However, natural deaths are rarely as peaceful as we would hope. Euthanasia, or putting animals to sleep, is a kindness we can offer to our beloved companions, to end their life at the right moment, in a dignified, controlled and pain-free way.
Making the decision to euthanase your pet could be one of the most difficult decisions you ever have to make. Many of us are unprepared for the grief that follows losing a beloved pet. We want to do everything we can to aid you in making the decision and to understand the euthanasia procedure; we want you to understand the choices available to you and to know what to expect at each step.
Is it the right time?
It’s perfectly normal to worry about whether you will know when the time is right. Some pets are euthanased following onset of illness or an accident. However, for many owners, if your pet has just gotten older and their quality of life has gradually deteriorated, this final step can be the hardest one.
Talk to the people you know and trust friends, family and the team here at Willett House. One of the hardest facts about euthanasia is that it is you who decides to end your pet’s life and this can feel unbearably hard. It’s at this time we need to remember allowing your pet a pain-free and dignified end is possibly the kindest thing you will ever do for them. Feeling safe in that knowledge can really help you to come to terms with their loss.
Quality of Life
Often, well-loved pets are euthanased to minimize their unnecessary suffering. The British Veterinary Association defines Quality of Life as:
“It is the value that an animal’s life has for that animal. Probably most of us would consider this value in terms of the experiences that its life provides. Those experiences certainly include emotions and feelings: pain, pleasure, fear and enjoyment make a life more or less worthwhile.”
You could write a list of three to five things that your pet likes to do, when your pet is no longer able to enjoy these things, it may be time to consider euthanasia. If you are still struggling with the decision, the questionnaire below will help you to decide whether your pet is experiencing a decline in their Quality of Life.
You’ll find a list of questions at the end of this article which may help you further.
Preparing for Euthanasia
When possible, this will be your decision. Usually, you will need to make a call to the practice to discuss booking the appointment. During that telephone call, the Client Care team member will endeavor to get your appointment booked at a quiet time of day, to make it as peaceful as possible for yourself, your family and most importantly, your pet. We will want to talk to you about aftercare options; discussing this via telephone allows you the time to think about the options available to you and it means that your attention can be fully focused on your pet when you visit the practice. Should you wish, we are able to email this information over instead, for you to review in your own time. We at Willett House will do our best to accommodate your wishes at this difficult time.
Sometimes the time and place may be taken out of your hands. For example, if your pet is hospitalised with the practice and their condition has worsened. The vet will always contact you before they do anything, and when possible, they will offer you the chance to say goodbye unless they feel it is not fair to your pet. Whatever happens, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s important you know everything that is going on and the vet’s reasons for everything they are suggesting.
Euthanasia at home can be considered but is not always the preferred option or suitable for every pet, some benefits include your pet remaining in a familiar environment, however thought needs to be given to the potential disadvantages. There is less ability to deal with any complications that may arise, albeit rarely. Often the vet may require a nurse to be present to assist with holding the pet for the final stage while those present can talk to and comfort your pet. We have very little flexibility and availability in terms of when the vet can come out to your home. The cost of a home visit will be greater. Some also may find having a euthanasia at home adds to their grief as there is a more tangible reminder of the experience.
At the time of the euthanasia appointment or visit you will be asked to sign a form of ‘Euthanasia Consent’ by the vet and your wishes for the aftercare can be indicated at this point.
The Process of Euthanasia
This worries many owners as it is usually ‘the unknown’. The exact method will vary with the type of animal your pet is. The simplest explanation for virtually all pet species that your pet will receive an overdose of anaesthetic. Dogs and cats typically have an intravenous catheter placed in a fore or hind limb to allow the anaesthetic agent to be delivered into the blood stream. A nurse will need to assist the vet in placing the catheter and they may take your pet to our prep area and return to you once the catheter is placed. Once the vet and nurse return with your pet, you will be given the time you need to say goodbye. When you are ready, the vet will begin injecting the anaesthetic. In most situations it will still be possible for you to hold your pets head, stroke them, and talk to them to comfort your pet while the procedure is completed. At this time it may be of comfort to you to have their favorite blanket or toy with them.
In some cases, the vet may give a sedative first to relax your pet before the final injection is given. The vet will talk you through this option if it needs to be considered. The vet will be able to discuss the options with you and find what you both think will be best.
For small pets like hamsters, rats and guinea pigs, the vet may need to sedate them either by injection or with a gas first. These animals do not have veins big enough to allow the same type of injection and will usually, once unconscious, have an injection into their abdomen, letting them drift away peacefully. In these cases, especially if it is a child’s pet, the vet may recommend that you don’t stay with the animal.
What can I expect
The anaesthetic reaches the heart and brain within seconds and your pet will be aware of nothing after the injection is given. If you or the vet has chosen to use a sedative first, it may take a few moments longer, simply because the blood pressure is lower.
Don’t worry, your pet will still feel no pain or discomfort. Be prepared for some of the things which can happen immediately after the injection if you decide to stay. Every animal has some reflexes which can happen at the time of death. They can sometimes look quite upsetting but if you know what they are, you can be prepared. Do remember these all happen after death and your pet is not aware of them at all. They may take some very big, deep breaths or gasps. Sometimes they will make a noise at the same time. This is just a reflex spasm and is not normal breathing. You may see some muscle twitching which might move your pet’s legs or head. They might also empty their bladder or bowels. These are simply reflex actions and only last a few moments. Its important to realise that your pets eyes will remain open after they have passed. Being prepared and knowing what to expect will make the whole process much easier to deal with. In many cases none of these things may happen and your pet will simply drift away peacefully. Take your time to say goodbye to your pet and to react as you feel you need to.
What happens to my pet?
You will almost always be allowed to take your pet home for a home burial, should you wish, unless they have an infectious or notifiable disease. Otherwise, we offer a cremation service, via Cambridge Pet Crematorium. This will either be a communal cremation, where your pet will be cremated with several other pets and a small portion of the ashes are kept in the crematorium’s gardens of remembrance. You can also choose to have an individual cremation and have your pet’s ashes returned for you to keep, scatter or bury. The practice will be able to advise you on the choice of caskets. This service is more expensive than a normal cremation. ‘Individual’ cremation can take up to a fortnight and you will receive a call from the practice to let you know when your pet has been returned to us for collection when you feel ready. Please note fees need to be paid in full on collection of your pets’ ashes.
The team will aim to either speak to you in your initial telephone call, send an email with details or discuss it at the appointment. You are welcome to ask as many questions as you need, and our team will answer to the best of our ability. Should you wish to change your decision after leaving the practice, you will need to let us know at your earliest convenience and we will let you know whether it is possible.
Paying for the procedure
We always want to address the financial side of euthanasia with as much care and caution as we can. Presenting the bill for services around euthanasia can be so difficult for clients and vets alike. We will try to discuss this beforehand so you have an idea of what the cost will be and what our Willett House policy is. The cost of this skilled and crucial process can be more than you might expect, especially if cremation is added. If your choice of aftercare is an individual cremation and your pet is being returned to Willett House, the charges for this have to be met at the time of collection.
It is always best to be open and frank about these things, you and the vet can avoid any misunderstandings that might arise afterwards regarding your financial account. You may also be able to pay your account before the procedure.
If your pet has an insurance policy please contact the company direct to confirm if euthanasia and cremation costs are covered by their policy the practice will not know this information.
We have all experienced some form of grief and there is no quick or easy way to get over the loss of a much-loved pet. There is some excellent support available via the Blue Cross, other charities and the NHS (see below). Always remember that it helps to talk with friends, family and other pet owners, sharing your grief, happy memories and experience.
If there is any further support the in-house Willett House team can offer, please let us know.
Quality of Life Questionnaire
Does your pet want to play?
Does your pet respond to your presence and interact with you in the same way as before?
Does your pet still enjoy the same activities?
Is your pet hiding or sleeping much more than usual?
Is your pet’s demeanour or behaviour the same as it was prior to the onset of symptoms?
Does your pet seem to enjoy his or her life?
Does your pet have more good days than bad days?
Does your pet seem dull or depressed?
Does your pet seem to be experiencing pain or discomfort?
Is your pet panting (while resting), trembling or shaking?
Is your pet vomiting or seeming nauseous?
Is your pet eating and drinking well?
Is your pet losing weight?
Is your pet toileting as normal?
Have your pet’s activity levels declined?
Is your pet moving normally?
Does your pet need your help to move around?
Is your pet able to keep him or herself clean?
Is your pet’s coat greasy, matted or rough-looking?
How is your pet’s overall health since the onset of symptoms?