Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Pet
One of the hardest decisions you will ever make is to euthanize your beloved pet. Use the questions here to guide you as you answer the painful question:
Is euthanasia the right choice?
Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand. James Herriot, All Things Wise and Wonderful
The Dreaded News
Pets enter our lives and hearts and become part of the family. Over the next twelve years or so we probably experience many changes. These changes are as varied as life itself but may include such things as children leaving home, breakup with a spouse or partner, job loss, illness or the death of a loved one. Through it all, if we are lucky, our pets are there for us as a source of comfort. Then comes the dreadful news: our beloved companion has an incurable disease or is nearing the end of life because of age.
Sometimes the decision to euthanize must be made quickly, as with traumatic injuries after an accident. When death comes without warning, there is no time to absorb the shock. Most often, however, you have some time to discuss treatment options with your veterinarian. It is always heartbreaking to get a bleak diagnosis, but with just a little bit of time on your side, you have a chance to say goodbye to a great friend who has enriched your life.
The Grief Before Pet Loss
It is common for grief to begin with the fatal diagnosis or when you notice a physical decline in your elderly pet. These sad and complex emotions before your pet’s death are called anticipatory grief—the "grief before grief" because you know the end is near. Some of the most common feelings of anticipatory grief include sorrow, dread, fear, frustration, anger, regret and anxiety.
Anticipatory grief helps you prepare for the end of life, but the extent to which you can prepare for your beloved pet’s death is unknown. You will also grieve after your pet's death because anticipatory grief does not prevent, accelerate or slow the grief you feel after loss.
Because anticipatory grief becomes more intense as the death approaches, it is important to discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian and not delay the decision too long. You can also enlist the support of friends and family to comfort you without judgment at this difficult time.
Please be selective when sharing your pain with others. The last thing you need is someone to minimize your suffering with insensitive remarks. Sadly, some people do not understand the agony of pet loss.
A Feeling of Helplessness
One of the hallmarks of grief is a feeling of helplessness. It is human to want someone else to make the decision for you to euthanize your pet. Your veterinarian’s job is to provide information and guidance about your pet’s changing condition and to offer you compassionate understanding of your agony. The decision to end your pet’s life, however, is yours to make.
The Hardest Decision
The choice to euthanize your pet may be one of the hardest you will ever make, but a natural death, letting nature take its course, can be painful and prolonged. Often people can accept the death of a beloved companion but have great difficulty with being the one who must decide when that death will occur.
Let the following questions guide you as you answer the painful question:
Is euthanasia the right choice for my pet?
Is there a reasonable chance for cure?
If there is no cure, can symptoms be managed? In other words, is my pet's comfort a realistic goal?
How much additional time might treatment give?
What will be the quality of my pet’s time if I choose treatment?
Do I have the financial resources to handle long-term veterinary care?
Do I have the emotional stamina necessary for my pet’s long illness or permanent condition?
Is my relationship with my pet decreasing in quality as I anticipate this loss?
How many of my pet’s usual activities are still possible?
Make a list and review it on a regular basis.
Is my pet suffering?
Does my pet still enjoy anything about his life?
What do I believe my pet wants me to do?
If I were in my pet’s place, what would I want?
What am I unwilling or unable to tolerate? Write a contract with yourself knowing that you can always change your mind.
Think about the future. Ask yourself how you will look back and remember this experience.
Once you have made the decision to euthanize your pet, take the time to say goodbye.
If the death was sudden, and you had no time to say goodbye, visit Coping with Sudden and Unexpected Pet Loss.
Sources | Related Reading
Making the Decision
Euthanasia: When is it Time? by Wendy C. Brooks, DVM.
Includes a Quality of Life Scale that can help you make the best decision for your pet.
How do I talk to my kids about euthanasia? by Jeannine Moga, MSW, LICSW
On this site
COVID-19 and Euthanasia
Offers compassionate advice for anyone facing this difficult time
Only caring, responsible pet owners agonize over the decision to euthanize.
If you did not love your pet, you would not care about his or her life.
Blame, Shame, and Guilt: Making Decisions for Our Pets by Adam Clark, LCSW
He offers a wise and compassionate perspective on companion animal death.