When it’s time to say goodbye

SONY DSCBy Dr. Dirk Dekens, DVM

Without a doubt having your companion animal “put to sleep” or humanely euthanized is one of the toughest emotional decisions any pet parent can be faced with. For many, our companion animals are members of the family and their loss is no different than losing a beloved friend or family member. Regardless of their age, their loss is always too soon.

We are their guardians and caregivers throughout their lives, and we owe it to them to be kind, caring and selfless when the time comes that their pain and suffering no longer allows them to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. Letting go is hard, but it is the only compassionate act we can offer them when their little bodies and/or minds no longer can sustain any further enjoyment of life as they once knew it.

It’s hard to prepare ourselves for death and dying. While some pets may live into old age and experience a slow and steady demise of their abilities, others may experience a sudden onset of illness or, in some cases, a critical accident. As our pets can only communicate with us through their behaviours, deciding as to when to euthanize can be very challenging.

Families often look for changes in their pet’s behaviours to let them know “their time might be close.” Families considering euthanasia often observe many of the following in their beloved pet:

  • chronic and uncontrolled pain
  • frequent vomiting and diarrhea that causes dehydration and weight loss
  • incontinence
  • loss of interest in favourite activities, toys, walks, other pets, food or time spent with family members
  • inability to stand or walk
  • breathing difficulties
  • general deterioration in the quality of life with no foreseeable chance of recovery
  • a diagnosis of severe illness where medical intervention will not help improve the quality of life

Your veterinarian is there for you to consult with, review the needs of your pet and help you make the best decision possible while respecting individual wishes for dealing with the euthanasia.

Allowing your pet to pass peacefully at home rather than in an unfamiliar and often scary clinic environment is an option many families choose. Home euthanasia allows for the entire family, including other pets, to be present and assists greatly with the grieving process for everyone. Tears can be allowed to flow freely and the home environment allows for a safe place to respect and honour various personal and religious rituals.

Some families in preparation for the loss of their loved one may wish to have end-of-life photos taken prior. There are many pet photographers who offer this service or people may do so on their own. It may be that your family dog loved being in the garden or out by a favourite tree, or your pet cat had a favourite chair he liked to lie on. These personal wishes can be honoured through an in-home euthanasia process.

For families with children, it is important to explain and prepare them for the loss of their family pet. We all need to find ways to say our good-byes and to grieve. The decision to have younger children and family present is a personal one and you should discuss your wishes with your veterinarian to make a choice that is right for you.

The process of euthanasia offers a peaceful and painless ending to your companion pet’s life and your veterinarian is there to guide you through the process — whether at home or in a clinic along with the decision to cremate or bury the remains.

Grieving is a natural response to loosing those we love. While the stages of grieving — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — are similar for most, the way in which we grieve and the time it takes varies from person to person. It is very individual and personal, and expressing sadness over your loss is understandable and normal.What matters most is to take care of yourself and those around you and seek out support.

—Dr. Dirk Dekens is the owner of Dekens Housecall Veterinary Services and offers mobile vet care including home euthanasia in Calgary and area. He can be reached at (403) 615-8016 or visit www.dekensvet.ca.