Bereavement: Is it time to let go?

It has been estimated that less than a quarter of all dogs die peacefully in their sleep of ‘old age’ or natural causes, which means that most dog owners will have to go through the trauma of having a dog put to sleep. Although this decision can be one of the hardest that you’ll have to make, depending on the circumstances it may also be the kindest thing that you’ll ever do for your pet.

How can you tell when the time is right? Your vet will be a good guide to help you make this decision; however, ultimately it must rest with you and your family. Don’t make any rash decisions that you may regret at a later stage. Here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide if your dog has a good enough quality of life to justify keeping him going.

With the necessary veterinary attention, can your dog:

  • Eat and drink enough to maintain normal body function?
  • Breathe without difficulty?
  • Urinate and defaecate normally, without discomfort or distress?
  • Walk and move well enough to get around without falling or risk of injury?

Is your dog:

  • Still interested in life, playful and affectionate?
  • Free from pain, serious discomfort or distress?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is “no” then you might have to consider euthanasia for your pet.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia means ‘gentle’ or 'easy death', but what actually happens? A dog is euthanased by an intravenous injection of a barbiturate, usually in the foreleg, which is basically an overdose of anaesthetic. The dog should feel no more pain than the usual prick felt when being given an injection. In a few seconds the dog is completely unconscious and so doesn’t feel a thing as his breathing slows down, cardiac arrest follows and then finally comes death. After death, the body of the dog may experience muscle spasms leading to trembling legs or sudden gasps, and there may be some loss of bowel and bladder control. This can be distressing to see but it is perfectly normal and it is a good idea to be prepared. 

It is up to you whether you choose to stay with your dog at this time or not. Whilst some owners like to stay to comfort their pet, others may feel that their own sadness or distress would only make it worse for their dog.

Most pets are euthanased at a veterinary surgery because the procedure can be carried out easily with veterinary nurses available to assist, however it may be possible to arrange for a home visit if you think this will be less traumatic for your dog. Be prepared for the vet to take your dog’s body away in a black plastic bag if you have arranged for a cremation to take place. This may seem undignified but is essential for health and safety reasons.

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