Making the Decision
The decision to euthanize a pet is always an important and difficult one, and we will spend time with you long before any decision needs to be made in order to do everything possible for your pet’s quality of life. Some pet owners wait too long due to the difficulty of this decision. Some of this difficulty is about our feelings of sadness that we let a good friend down, or that we will no longer have their companionship. Another reason why people might wait too long to make the decision is because dogs and cats are particularly good at hiding their misery, making it difficult to know when it is time.
One of the most difficult questions the doctors at the Long Beach Animal help answer is when exactly it is time, since many pets with chronic disease deteriorate slowly. It is important to watch for subtle signs of problems and monitor them for change. A dog that seemed to be a little slower at walks one day might be collapsed and unable to use rear legs properly the next. It is traumatic for your pet, and also you, when you need to make a euthanasia decision on short notice.
The time to talk with of our doctors is when your pet ages and starts showing subtle signs of a problem. Our Geriatric Page has lots of information on the problems of older pets, and how to stay ahead of the curve and catch these problems before they become intractable.
Painful arthritis is one of the most common problems here. There are many basic and common sense treatments we can utilize to increase your pet’s quality of life before the problem progresses, and your pet is suffering needlessly. No pet is the same, and we balance your feelings and needs, with our exam and laboratory findings, to advise you. When the time comes we make the decision together.
The decision to euthanize a pet is always an important and difficult one, and we will spend time with you long before any decision needs to be made in order to do everything possible for your pet’s quality of life.
Quality of Life
This is one of the most important criteria in a euthanasia decision. How can you tell when your pet is suffering, especially when many animals are stoic, and what you see on the outside is not an indication of the pain and discomfort they are feeling on the inside.
Overt signs of a poor quality of life, like poor appetite, lethargy, moaning or crying, are obvious. It’s the more subtle signs of a problem you need to be on the alert for:
- Unusually passive or aggressive behavior
- Pacing or difficulty in finding a comfortable spot to lay down
- Head held low and a tucked in tail
- Aloofness from you and other pets in your household
- Poor sleep pattern
- Extra attention seeking
- Compulsive licking or scratching
- Excessive panting
- Avoiding eye contact with you
- Other pets in your household acting aggressive toward this suspect pet
The loss of a pet is sometimes not accepted or appreciated by those who have had no similar experiences. When a loss happens there are steps to deal with the pain. The first thing to realize is that your feelings of grief and sadness are real. Your pet provided joy and meaning in your daily routine. Let yourself feel the sadness and express it in many forms. Do not bottle the feelings of loss within yourself. If you bottle the feelings within you the grieving process will not continue and you may not be able to risk again loving and having a pet.
Pet support hotlines are affiliated with humane societies and veterinary schools are readily available. They are staffed with people that understand your loss and are ready to listen and lend support.
One of the more difficult emotional problems is how to tell children. Being honest about the problems their pet was having and how we ended the suffering. Encourage them to share their feelings. As a family a pet memorial ceremony or gathering is a ritual that can help. It helps acknowledge the reality that a death has occurred. It gives a share time to contemplate what has happened and reconcile the old reality with the new reality. The community aspect of the gathering in support helps bond and encourages others to express feelings of grief. A proper good bye helps everyone go forward.
You can make this ceremony formal or informal, indoors or outdoors, with your pet’s ashes in an urn or a burial pod. Before the ceremony allow children to draw a picture or write a letter to their pet is a powerful tool in the healing process. Start the ceremony by reading a poem or sharing memories about the pet, especially when it first entered your household. Give each child a chance to say something if they wish. Flowers, plants, or special toys can be placed on the burial pod or casket. Periods of silence are also important. Place a marker if your pet is buried in a burial pod in the ground for a visit any time it might be needed.
We use biodegradable burial pods from a company called PawPods. They have an array of products to help in the burial of pets as small as goldfish up to large dogs. You can order their products through us or directly from their web site.
In addition to burial pods and urns their web site has a pet loss blog for additional support.
When euthanasia is appropriate we will help you medically in any way you need. We will reserve one of our exam rooms for your exclusive and private use. You can use it as long as you need. Please let us know ahead of time what we can do to make the experience a little easier. By all means bring a special toy or blanket your pet is familiar with to make the process less stressful.
We light a candle in our reception area notifying others that a euthanasia is in progress in one of our exam rooms, and to please be respectful by showing appropriate behavior.
It is important to complete all paperwork before we actually euthanize your pet. This lets us concentrate on your pet’s needs, and allows you to just walk out of the hospital when the service has been performed. You can stay in the exam room as long as you need, in complete privacy, before leaving.
One of the forms required in the state of California is verification that your pet has not bitten anyone in the last 10 days. This is to prevent the chance that fatal rabies has been transmitted to someone. If your pet has bitten someone then it either has to be tested for rabies, or quarantined for 10 days, before we can proceed with euthanasia.
Some people prefer to be present with the doctor when their pet is euthanized. To make the experience smoother for your pet one of our nurses will bring your pet into our treatment area and place a catheter in its vein and also administer a light sedation. When your pet returns to the exam room you can take as much time as you need before our doctor gives the final injection with you present. The catheter and sedation allow us to give the final injection smoothly. Your pet will peacefully fall asleep within a few seconds.
We can perform the euthanasia without your presence if you do not want to be present. This can be done in our treatment area, and we can let you know immediately when it has been performed. You can always view your pet just after euthanasia has been completed if you need the closure.
We also have a house call service to euthanize your pet. One of our doctors will come with a technician to your residence and perform the service in private. Please let us know several days in advance so we can have a doctor available.
Disposal of Remains
In addition to PawPods a private cremation service is available. This is a popular service, and one of our receptionists will give you options when you complete your paperwork prior to euthanasia. There are several different urns that range from basic to elegant.
We can also make a print of your pet’s paw in ceramic clay