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Saying Goodbye

There is no time more difficult than the last days of a pet's life. Regardless of how much time you've had to prepare, the decision to euthanize your friend will not be easy. Throughout the life of your pet, you have been concerned about his/her quality of life. But at this moment, quality and dignity of life become immediate. It is important that your concerns are honored at this time and that you are allowed ample information to make all of the decisions that are ahead. Your entire veterinary health care team will assist you during this time by providing information as well as a concerned, understanding ear. It is important to remember that you have options available to you. Options may include hospice care, assisted by your veterinary health care team, to reduce pain and suffering until natural death occurs.

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Euthanasia is the medical procedure of alleviating pain and suffering by administering drugs in the vein to stop the heart permanently, and allow a quiet, painless death.  Every veterinary health care team performs euthanasia a little differently. However, it is important to remember that you are the ultimate decision maker. Even at this critical time, you have control.  You have the right to select options for these final steps in the care of your pet.

Perhaps the most often asked question is, "How will I know it is time?" Deciding the actual time is very personal. It is important to remember that there is no incorrect decision, there is only a decision that is right for you. There are many issues to take into consideration. They include your pet's quality of life, the cost of continued care, the time you must invest for continued care, and the kind of life you want your pet to live. Quality of life is a subjective assessment, but it can be judged in part by accounting for things such as appetite, activity and energy level, grooming habits, and attention to daily rituals. One such daily ritual might include not sleeping in a favorite place. It may be helpful to keep some sort of written record of your pet's "lifestyle." In that record, you may ask yourself questions like:

  • "Do the bad days and times out-number the good?"
  • "Is my pet able to do the things that make him/her happy?"
  • "How does my pet's day differ now, compared to days before s/he was sick?"

In preparation for your pet's death, you may want to consider the following:

  • You may wish to spend some special time, doing some of those special things that have held meaning to you during the lifetime of your pet.  This may be as simple as allowing your pet to bask in the sun in a favorite place, or on your lap as you read the paper.
  • Many studies have shown that excluding children or making up stories (e.g., "Fluffy ran away") may be destructive in the long run. It is important that children not be "sheltered" from this decision-making process. It is also important for parents to appreciate a child's ability to comprehend the concept of death.
  • You may wish to take pictures, clip hair, or make paw imprints on paper or in clay as a lasting memorial.
  • You may find it easier to discuss body care (cremation, burial, hospital disposal, etc) prior to euthanasia.

Many people decide they want to be present at the time of euthanasia, whereas others do not. Regardless of which path is chosen, the family needs to have an understanding of what may transpire.  Every hospital performs euthanasia differently; however, most are sensitive to your desires for a dignified and painless death for your pet.

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Grief is a normal manifestation of loss regardless if the beloved friend is a person or a pet. There are many ways for you to work through the grief process. You should be aware that the loss of an animal, like the loss of a family member or friend, could cause physical and emotional changes that can last for weeks or months. You may wish to contact a pet loss support group, pet loss hotline, or local specialists who are knowledgeable about loss, and receptive to helping people who have lost a beloved pet.

The Colorado State University Argus Institute offers consulting for Families and Veterinary Medicine. Staffed by professional grief therapists, (970) 297-4143.

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Other Sources of Support:

National Support Hotlines and Resources:

American Society fo the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) - 24 Hours:
1-877-GRIEF-10 (1-877-474-3310). This is a direct line to ASPCA's psychologist and grief counselor, Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, PhD.

Chicago Veterinary Medical Association
(630) 325-1600

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
(607) 253-3932

University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine
(800) 798-6196 (toll-free)

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
(877) 394-CARE (toll-free)
(217) 244-CARE (local)

Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine
(517) 432-2696

Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine
(614) 292-1823

Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
(508) 839-7966

Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine:
(540) 231-8038

Washington State University
(866) 266-8635 (toll-free)
(509) 335-5704 (local)

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Online Resources:

American Veterinary Medical Association

The Delta Society - the Human-Animal Health Connection

The Animal Rescue Site

Horse Loss Support

Pet Candle Lighting Ceremony

 

Pet Loss Support:
www.animalchaplains.com
www.aplb.org
www.pet-loss.net
www.petvets.com/petloss
www.selfhealingexpressions.com