Preparing for euthanasia

One of the ways to minimise the stress and distress associated with euthanasia is to inform yourself about what is involved and to make sure that the whole procedure is carried out in a place and in a way that you are as comfortable as possible with. Being prepared and informed will hopefully minimise any future feelings of guilt or ‘I wish we had done it differently’; the death experience can impact heavily on the grieving experience.

Some animals are euthanased following an acute deterioration or a sudden onset illness and there is little or no time to prepare. However if there is time, some things to consider include:

a) Euthanasia at home versus at your veterinary practice: most veterinary practices offer euthanasia at home. This is not suitable for everyone but some benefits include your pet remaining in a familiar and less stressful environment, for example in their favourite spot in the house, and often a quieter and more private experience for the family. Potential disadvantages include:

  • The process can be practically more awkward from the veterinarian’s point of view
  • There is less ability to deal with any complications that may arise, albeit rarely
  • There is likely to be less flexibility in terms of when the vet can come out to the home
  • The cost may be greater
  • Some people find having euthanasia done at home worsens their grief as there is a more tangible reminder of the experience

If euthanasia is performed at home, most veterinarians will be willing to take your pet’s body away with them for aftercare depending on your preferred option (see Aftercare).

If euthanasia is to be performed at your practice, consider taking your pet’s favourite bed or blanket with you for him/her to lie on during the procedure.

b) Timing: it is important to consider both the time of the day and the day of the week. For example, it might be best to book an appointment at a time when the practice is likely to be quietest so that the appointment is not rushed; or you may want to schedule a time such that your pet can have a final meal or walk before being taken to the practice. With respect to the day of the week, you may need to consider for example whether you are able to take some time off work to grieve or whether you prefer to coincide euthanasia with the weekend. As mentioned above, if euthanasia is to be performed at home, timing may to some extent be restricted by availability of the veterinarian. You may also wish to arrange a time when the children are away from the home depending on what has been decided in terms of their presence during the procedure (see Should I be present?).

When you arrive at the practice for the euthanasia appointment, you may prefer to wait in the car with your pet and ask to be called in when the vet is ready so that you can go straight into the consultation room.

c) Veterinary staff: in many cases, an individual vet, and sometimes a nurse, will have been mostly responsible for your pet’s care and will have developed a relationship with both you and your pet, potentially over several years. Consider this when booking the appointment as it is generally more comforting to have euthanasia done by practice staff with whom both your pet and you are familiar. However also remember that if for whatever reason you would rather not have this vet present, it is perfectly acceptable to request an alternate clinician.

d) Aftercare (see Aftercare)

“We who choose to surround ourselves
with lives even more temporary than our
own, live within a fragile circle;
easily and often breached.
Unable to accept its awful gaps,
we would still live no other way.
We cherish memory as the only
certain immortality, never fully
understanding the necessary plan.”

by  Irving Townsend