Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened (Dr Seuss)
by Dr. Christa Schmidt
AS owner’s of Fur Kids, one of the most difficult decisions, that lie ahead of us, is deciding when it is time to let go of our beloved Pet. This will be the last respect we show to our pet companion for all the love and companionship he/she has shown us over the year’s. Very often, it is the loss of quality of life, as our beloved pet ages, that necessitates our decision, however sometimes it is a life-threatening illness that forces us to decide in a younger pet. Mature Pet’s, who will emotionally suffer the loss of their human companion might also be the one’s we need to decide about.
As Vet’s we are often asked if this is the hardest part of our job, but realising that we are helping a pet die in a dignified manner and relieving it of it’s pain makes it more bearable.
How do we know if our companion has lost it’s quality of life?
The HHHHHMM scale to determine quality of life: (score 0 – 10; 10 being the ideal; a total above 35 points denotes that quality of life is still acceptable)
- H: Hurt: Adequate pain control and breathing easily are of main concern – trouble breathing outweighs all concerns; and is the pain managed well enough? Are there unbearable symptoms that can’t be controlled e.g vomiting? Does your pet pace around the house and has it’s overall condition changed recently?
- H: Hunger: Has your pet’s appetite changed – is your pet eating enough, does he need to be hand fed or need a feeding tube?
- H: Hydration: Is your pet drinking enough fluids and staying hydrated, has water intake changed?
- H: Hygiene: Can your pet still cope with getting up to urinate or defecate and maintain it’s basic hygiene or must you as pet parent become more involved with this? Have urination and bowel movements stayed the same? Is your pet sleeping comfortably or developing bed sores because it lies mostly?
- H: Happiness: Does your pet express joy and interest, or does she isolate herself and appear depressed or anxious or lonely. Does she still partake in activities she loved, still hate the things she hated (still hates the mailman/doesn’t bark at the mailman anymore) and interact normally with family or other pets. Is she more aggressive? Does she seem apathetic or confused and are nighttime activities normal?
- M: Mobility: Can your pet get up without assistance, can she walk without assistance, does she still enjoy walks, or is she stumbling or having seizures?
- M: More Good Day’s than Bad: When bad day’s outnumber the good, quality of life might be compromised. If your pet is suffering, the decision to euthenase needs to be made.
You should also address the family’s concerns – important questions to ask yourself are:
- What did I hope the life expectancy of my pet will be and what do I think it will be?
- Are you concerned about your pet’s suffering and of your pet dying alone?
- Are you able to perform nursing care for your pet?
- Are you concerned about other family member’s and other pet’s in the household?
Still you are unsure – and that is an understatement – You know it’s time and then you really don’t; you feel as if you are taking a life into your own hand’s. On the day you decide, your fur-kid might have a “good day” and you feel guilty about making such a decision, yet if you leave it too long, the realisation may sink in, that your companion has suffered.
Although we are saddened by the decision to euthenase our companion, nobody has ever shown regret. Remember, we as Veterinarians are only there to guide you and we are trained to see the suffering of our patient, BUT you as owner have the final say about euthanasia. If time allows, give yourself and your family time to say goodbye before finally deciding and also give yourselves time to grieve afterwards – this is after all the companion you raised, shared so much with and adored unconditionally…….
Euthenasia comes from greek terminology and literally means “Good Death” and the term “Putting to Sleep” is often also used – presumeably taken from the state the pet falls into after the solution is administered. The solution that is administered is usually a barbiturate, an anaesthetic agent, which quickly effects painless inhibition of nerve sensations and complete muscle relaxation. When nerve conduction is inhibited, there is loss of sensation, thought and movement. Your pet will transfer into a state of anaesthesia within six to ten seconds of administering the solution and then into complete relaxation and stopping of the heart muscles. We, as the owner’s are fully aware that this is the end and final and that is why it is so emotional, which it should be – for your companion, it is a relief and the same sensation as going under anaesthesia – The solution is only available on license to Veterinarians.
Owner’s are often concerned that it will be painful – however as the solution is administered intravenously the only sensation your pet will feel is the Vet assistant bringing up the vein and a small prick when the needle is inserted.
As owner’s we need to know that our pet’s will be fine-tuned into our emotions and that they might react to this if you as owner should wish to stay for the procedure.
It might be a good idea to call up the Vet before you go for the final appointment and find out which times are quieter if this will suit you, it might also be a good idea to keep your pet in the car while you wait to be called in to the vet.
At Animaland, we value respect of LIFE highly. If we are of opinion, that euthenasia is not the right choice at that stage, we will endeavour to make your pet as comfortable as we can and make suggestions too, as to how you as owner can too. We want to make sure that your Pet’s last visit is as pain-free and peaceful as we can possibly provide, and we want to be sure, that the last farewell is respectful.
We work with a reputable service provider – Envirocin – who collect the bodies and then cremate them. At an additional cost, you can ask the ashes to be returned for home burial or a keep-sake. Owner’s are often surprised that the ashes are so light, but remember 75% of the body is made up of water.
Municipal by-laws have become very strict regarding the disposal of animal bodies and dumping is not allowed UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!