By Bethany Hsia, DVM and Co-founder of CodaPet
Deciding to “put an animal to sleep,” choosing euthanasia to prevent suffering is one of the most difficult decisions a pet parent can make. Even when an animal is clearly suffering and has no path for recovery, the decision is rarely as simple as one might expect. As your pet’s guardian, you might be asking yourself:
What if tomorrow would be a better day?
Is it too early for euthanasia?
Have I already waited too long?
Am I giving up on them?
It is normal to have such questions swirling through your mind when faced with this heartbreaking decision. Seek out the resources available to you:consult your veterinarian, speak with family or friends who see your pet less frequently and may offer insight into gradual changes that have occurred, use quality of life assessments and tools such as calendars or journals that keep track of “good” and “bad” days. These resources will help you determine if euthanasia is a viable choice.
But what about after the final appointment? Here we will explore life after euthanasia for grieving pet parents. It can help to know that whatever thoughts or feelings you may have, you are not alone.
Common Feelings After Pet Euthanasia
Often people feel a strong sense of peace and that they’ve given their pet a final gift in ending the suffering of the dying process. It can provide a sense of relief for the family as their pet has relief from their disease, illness, or malady.
But our emotions are not always simple and the euthanasia of a pet can invite a mixture of other emotions and feelings which can all be felt concurrently. Such feelings as:
– Guilt: “Did I just kill my pet?”
– Worry: “Was it the right time?”
– Concern:”Were they afraid?”
– Fear: “Could I have done more?”
Guilt: “Did I just kill my pet?”
It is perfectly natural to wrestle with feelings of guilt. It is crucial to recognize that euthanasia is not the ending of life, rather it is preventing the continuation of suffering and the dying process. If your veterinarian has deemed euthanasia to be an appropriate step then it is a viable option for stopping or preventing suffering. Veterinarians take their oath very seriously and swear to use their knowledge and skills for the protection of animal health and welfare as well as the prevention and relief of animal suffering. Your veterinarian would not perform a euthanasia unless they felt they were upholding their oath in doing so. Many veterinarians have and continue to refuse to perform euthanasia on animals for whom it is not appropriate.
Worry: “Was it the right time?”
The reality is that the “perfect time” is a myth. There are times when euthanasia is not an appropriate option; in such cases other options are available, like rehoming a pet if necessary. On the other end of the spectrum, there are times when euthanasia may be necessary unless palliative hospice care is effective. Then, in many cases, there is the (often big) window of time in the middle where euthanasia is appropriate but not imminently needed. Here is where it is up to the family to decide what best suits their pet. Some families want to forestall the end until their pet is no longer doing this or that favorite activity; while others wish to say goodbye “on a good day” before their pet begins to lose those things that are unique about them. Neither approach is wrong. If you worry that the timing of your pet’s euthanasia was wrong, take heart in knowing there is no perfect time.
Concern: ”Were they afraid?”
It is worth noting that a pet’s experience with mortality is very different from our own. In nature, animals often pass away when they can no longer procure food or when they can’t escape predation. It’s no surprise then, that when our pet’s approach the end of their journey they can experience intense anxiety. This may manifest as pacing, vocalizing, excess salivation and the like. But the euthanasia procedure is inherently peaceful. The process begins with the vet administering medications to stop anxiety and pain. Many families observe that their pet appears more comfortable than they have in a long time. As the pet drifts off to sleep they are ready for the final injection which is a large dose of anesthesia. This medication makes it possible to achieve the passing most families say they want for their pet: to fall asleep and not wake up.
Fear: “Could I have done more?”
It is important to know that you did the best you could for your pet given the circumstances you were dealt. Your love and provision is what has brought them this far. Sometimes the path forward is barred by the limits of what is medically possible, sometimes the path forward is barred by what is financially or feasibly possible. This can be a difficult reality with which to struggle. But your pet was loved and surely, they knew it. When appropriate, euthanasia is the final self-less gift of love that can be given to our beloved pets.
What If I’m Still Struggling After Pet Euthanasia?
Your emotions may vary and shift as you move through the grieving process. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with family members, a good friend, or a pet grief counselor can help clarify them and help you process. Remember that you are not alone, veterinarians do not recommend euthanasia lightly, letting your pet go was a selfless act. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you knew your pet best, surely they knew they were loved.
If you are continuing to struggle with life after euthanasia, please contact National Suicide Prevention Life Line at 800-273-8255 and speak with a counselor for help. Be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone.