Most pet carers will be anxious and concerned that they will not know when the time is right to let their pets be euthanised, but most pet carers do know, this may be a feeling, that the time has come when they need to say goodbye to their pet.
This is true even for those pet carers who have been in denial. It can be like a switch going on, a fleeting glance with their pet or a feeling deep in their stomach. With realisation that the time has come and the time is right to make the appointment for euthanasia, the pet carer may find themselves operating on ‘auto-pilot’ or nervous energy. This means that the pet carer functions without focusing on the task and later may have no recollection of what was discussed during the phone call to the vet to make the appointment for euthanasia other than the time it is to take place. This can be due to the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol being released – these are natural built in mechanisms to protect us and help us cope during stressful times.
Others may experience hyper-vigilance whereby the pet carer is exceptionally aware of their surroundings. The pet carer’s behaviour may change and they may find it hard to focus, over-react, over think and be sensitive to noise. The physical symptoms of hyper-vigilance are a rapid heartbeat, restlessness and dilated pupils. These behaviours can be noticeable in the pet carer prior to or during euthanasia, but usually pass fairly quickly after the pet is euthanised.
Pet carers cannot anticipate how they will feel when the time comes to euthanise their pet, however, it’s safe to say that the majority will experience heightened physical and emotional responses to the life changing situation.
Having a plan and preparing in advance can help enormously and help to remove additional stress on the pet carer who has no choice at the time other than to act quickly and make decisions that they may not necessarily choose had they been thinking clearer. The pet carer should make as many decisions for their pet in advance although be prepared to be flexible as there are other external factors that will influence how well the plan is followed.
Here are a few examples of things the pet carer should plan –
When all avenues have been exhausted and it is no longer possible to continue with treatment or care for their pet, a pet carer wants to ensure that their pet will have a peaceful, painless and dignified death. Few companion animals die naturally in their sleep and by the time the decision is made to euthanise a pet a degree of suffering and or pain will be noticeable. It is important that the pet carer can discuss any concerns they may have about euthanasia with their vet or pet bereavement counsellor without being made to feel that their fears or concerns are unjustified or silly. Fears and concerns are very real to all pet carers and any questions should be answered honestly and directly. There is no such thing as a silly question.
The vet has the advantage of medical experience and for most, personal experience, and they will know what stage the pet is at given its age, illness or disease. Pet carers should not be afraid to ask their vet what they would do if it was their pet.
This does not mean the vet makes the ultimate decision, nor should the pet carer try to shift the responsibility onto the vet, ultimately the decision lies with the pet carer.
Putting aside the advantage that the vets have, by having medical knowledge of the pet’s condition, there is no one who knows the pet better than its main carer, and usually, they can identify the signs and symptoms that signal that the pet is very near the end of its life.
Taking into account the emotions a pet carer will experience when their pet is nearing the end of its life, it is not unusual for a vet to find themselves being accused of either prolonging a pet’s life unnecessarily by recommending further, often expensive veterinary care, or alternatively, of shortening a pet’s life by recommending euthanasia too soon. This can be a no-win situation for the vet, when they suggest euthanasia, if the pet carer through grief looks to blame someone for their pet’s death.