There is no simple way to accept when you need to make a decision regarding ending the life of your pet. This kind of purposeful death is called “euthanasia,” and which many people refer to as “putting your pet down.”

Our involvement with the final outcome may be passive. We may simply not pursue medical or surgical treatment in an aging pet. Perhaps its ailment has no cure and the best we can do is alleviate some of its suffering so that it may live the remainder of its days in relative comfort. An illness or accident may take it suddenly.

Most people secretly hope for a pet’s peaceful passing, hoping to find it lying in its favorite spot in the morning. The impact of a pet’s death is significantly increased when, as responsible and loving caretakers, we decide to have the pet euthanized.

Euthanasia is the induction of painless death. In veterinary practice, it is accomplished by intravenous injection of a concentrated dose of anesthetic. The animal may feel slight discomfort when the needle tip passes through the skin, but this is no greater than for any other injection. The euthanasia solution takes only seconds to induce a total loss of consciousness. This is soon followed by respiratory depression and cardiac arrest.

Doctors of veterinary medicine do not exercise this option lightly. Their medical training and professional lives are dedicated to diagnosis and treatment of disease. Veterinarians are keenly aware of the balance between extending an animal’s life and its suffering. Euthanasia is the ultimate tool to mercifully end a pet’s suffering.

To request euthanasia of a pet is probably the most difficult decision a pet owner can make. All the stages of mourning may flood together, alternating rapidly. We may resent the position of power. We may feel angry at our pet for forcing us to make the decision. We may postpone the decision, bargaining with ourselves that if we wait another day, the decision will not be necessary. Guilt sits heavily on the one who must decide. The fundamental guideline is to do what is best for your pet, even if you suffer in doing this. Remember that as much as your pet has the right to a painless death, you have the right to live a happy life.

Each of us mourns differently, some more privately than others, and some recover more quickly. Some pet owners find great comfort in acquiring a new pet soon after the loss of another. Others, however, become angry at the suggestion of another pet. They may feel that they are being disloyal to the memory of the preceding pet. Do not rush into selecting a replacement pet. Take the time to work through your grief.

To help you to prepare for the decision to euthanize your pet, consider the following questions. They are intended as a guide; only you can decide what is the best solution for you and your pet. Take your time. Speak with your veterinarian. Which choice will bring you the least cause for regret after the pet is gone?

Consider the following:

  • What is the current quality of my pet’s life?
  • Is my pet still eating well? Playful? Affectionate toward me?
  • Is my pet interested in the activity surrounding it?
  • Does my pet seem tired and withdrawn most of the time?
  • Is my pet in pain?
  • Is there anything I can do to make my pet more comfortable?
  • Are any other treatment options available?
  • If a behavioral problem has led me to this decision, have I sought the expertise of a veterinary behavior consultant?
  • Do I still love my pet the way I used to, or am I angry and resentful of the restrictions its condition has placed on my lifestyle?
  • Does my pet sense that I am withdrawing from it?
  • What is the quality of my life and how will this change?
  • Will I want to be present during the euthanasia?
  • Will I say goodbye to my pet before the euthanasia because it is too painful for me to assist?
  • Will I want to wait in the reception area until it is over?
  • Do I want to be alone or should I ask a friend to be present?
  • Do I want any special burial arrangements made?
  • Can my veterinarian store the body so that I can delay burial arrangements until later?
  • Do I want to adopt another pet?
  • Do I need time to recover from this loss before even considering another pet?

We are never quite prepared for the death of a pet. Whether death is swift and unexpected or whether it comes at the end of a slow decline, we are never fully aware of what a pet has brought to our lives until our companion is gone.