Pets are a very important part of our lives and bring us a great deal of joy. Unfortunately because our pets live shorter lives than we do there will usually come a time in most owner’s lives when we are faced with the sad duty of having to say goodbye to our pets. As owners we all want a pain free, peaceful end for our pets. Whilst sometimes our pets do pass away peacefully in their sleep it is unfortunately often necessary for owners to have to make a difficult decision to have their pet euthanased in order to prevent suffering. Euthanasia offers a peaceful and painless end to our pets’ lives to prevent further unnecessary suffering and pain. Done at the right time and in the right manner euthanasia is not a cruel thing but is very much an act of kindness to our pets. In fact the word “Euthanasia” translates to “Good Death” in Greek.
Knowing when the time is right
Making the decision to have our pets euthanased can be very difficult at the best of times. This is especially true when things are changing very gradually. Pets can’t tell us how they are feeling and and so it is our responsibility to look for signs of changes that their quality of life may be deteriorating. At Winton Lodge we will always give you honest advice and guide you as best as possible but ultimately making the decision is very much down to the pet owner. This is of course as it should be because it is the pet owner who knows the pet best and is best placed to judge the quality of life.
It is helpful to focus as much as possible on putting the best interests of our pets first and foremost. As we understand things pets don’t have a concept of the afterlife – they are fortunate in that they live very much in the present and it is their present condition which is so important to them. That is why quality of life considerations trump all else when it comes to our pets.
Some of our clients find having a pre-euthanasia consultation very helpful. This is an opportunity to examine the patient, assess quality of life and discuss things in detail without the pressure of having to make the decision there and then. It can be very helpful preparing ourselves for when the day comes.
It is very important to know that euthanasia may in fact NOT be the only option to help your pet even if it he or she is currently not doing all that well. Many causes of pain and suffering can be alleviated for our elderly pets so if in doubt please call us.
On the day
At Winton Lodge we understand that euthanasia is an emotional and stressful time for owners and we do our utmost to reduce that as much as we possibly can. For some owners and pets a house visit may be the best option and we will always try to accommodate that. Sometimes it is better for the pet and owner to be at the clinic.
Wherever possible we try to book an appointment at a quieter time of day when there are no other people around to allow for more privacy so please let us know when you telephone the clinic to ask for such an appointment.
Some owners find it helpful to bring a friend or relative along for support.
Euthanasia involves giving an intravenous injection of a barbiturate anaesthetic – it is quite literally an anaesthetic overdose. A small patch of fur is shaved from a forelimb and a catheter is placed in the vein – exactly as if we were putting up a drip or doing an anaesthetic for surgery. The injection is then administered via the vein and the animal goes to sleep, which quickly deepens into coma and the animal gently slips away. It is very quick and entirely painless aside from the small pinprick of placing the catheter. Many of our owners choose to be present throughout the process, others prefer to leave them to our care. This is a very personal decision.
Some pets may experience muscle twitching or even intermittent breathing after death has occurred and occasionally as the muscles relax the bladder or bowels may empty – it is important to be prepared for these things.
Occasionally with very small pets or extremely collapsed animals the injection may be given into another area of the body.
In some cases sedation may be given beforehand. This is not always the best option as it can affect breathing and blood pressure and so this is done when appropriate rather than as a routine.
It is possible to take pets home for burial but great care must be taken to prevent their bodies being disturbed by dogs or foxes. Not only would this be extremely distressing but the body would be toxic to other animals following the barbiturate injection. In the case of home burial the grave must be at least 1.25m (four feet) deep, away from water courses and care needs to be taken regarding underground cables, pipes etc.
In general most owners will opt to have their pets cremated. This can be either as a routine, mass cremation or an individual cremation in which the ashes are returned in a container of your choice. They can then be kept or scattered at a favourite spot. In the case of normal cremations the ashes are buried at the crematorium. Other options such as burial can also be arranged.
We use Surrey Pet Crematorium, a local service which some of our staff have visited, giving us confidence that your pets will be handled in a dignified and respectful manner. Our staff will make all the arrangements for cremation on your behalf.
Dealing with our loss
Grief is a very personal thing and affects us all differently. Following the loss of a pet many people can feel a great deal of despair, loneliness and depression. Sometimes there can also be elements of guilt or self doubt about the decision to euthanase a pet. Psychologists recognise that the feelings experienced by owners after the death of their pets can be comparable to those felt after losing close human friends or relatives. It is important to know that these feelings are normal and they are a testimony to the special bond between the owner and their pet. Unfortunately not everyone understands this grief and it can be a very lonely experience.
There is a lot of support available now for people coping with the the loss of a pet. Winton Lodge has a trained bereavement counsellor who is always happy to speak to owners. In addition there are a number of websites and books which can be very helpful.
Children may have a great deal of difficulty understanding and coping with the death of their pets and it is important to recognise that they may need additional support during this time. From around the age of nine most children are aware of the finality of death and experts agree that it is important to be honest with children about their pet’s death.
Adolescents sometimes find it very hard to share their feelings and it is important to remember that this is already a highly emotional period in their lives. It is helpful if they can be encouraged to talk to someone but also not to force them to do this as this could have an adverse effect.
Some people find it very helpful to hold a memorial for their pets with close friends and family to give everyone a chance to reflect and express and share their feelings.
Resources to help with dealing with loss
The Blue Cross offer an online and telephone Bereavement Support Service:
There are some very good books which can help you understand the whole process and come to terms with your loss:
Absent Friend – Coping with the loss of your pet – by Laura and Martyn Lee
Goodbye, Dear Friend – Coming to terms with the death of a pet – by Virginia Ironside
Death of an animal friend – Produced by SCAS and available through the Blue Cross.
There is also the excellent Ralph website with additional resources and online forum.
Time is a healer
When to replace or even whether to replace a pet is a very personal matter. Some people feel it is best to fill the void left by their loss as soon as possible, for other people this can feel disloyal to the memory of the pet they have lost.
Ideally a new pet should only be acquired when you are ready to took forward and build a new relationship with a pet. It is very important to treat your new pet as an individual character and avoid comparing them to your previous pet. It takes time to bond with any new pet so don’t expect too much too soon and remember that you will have to do everything from scratch again – you can’t expect a new pet to be perfectly trained and used to your routines and their new surroundings.
Approached carefully though taking on a new pet will bring you more wonderful years of companionship.